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Dangerous dogs cost owners thousands in Pa.

Written by Abbey Zelko/The York Daily Record | Aug 8, 2017 1:22 PM
bo_dangerous-dogs-2.jpg

Bo, a chocolate Labrador Retriever, looks out the window of the Dover Township home where he lives with his owner, Robert Reichart. Bo has been registered with the state as a dangerous dog for six years after an incident involving a neighbor. Because Reichart chose not to euthanize Bo, he has had to pay an annual $500 registration fee, purchase insurance and keep a leash and muzzle on Bo whenever he goes outside. (Photo: Chris Dunn, York Daily Record)

(Undated) -- Seven years ago, Bo was just like any other dog.

He was playful and energetic. He enjoyed rolling around with the grandkids when they came to visit, and he loved to be outside.

He'd spend most of the day in Robert Reichert's yard - a fenced-in acre in Dover Township - running around with the other family dogs and getting muddy from the hose water.

"They'd always run around, play around with each other, roll with each other," Reichert said.

A database maintained by the state allows you to find out. Abbey Zelko and Chris Dunn, York Daily Record

 

When Bo wasn't playing, he was training to be a hunting dog.

But now, the only time Bo goes outside is when he has to go to the bathroom.

In 2011, the chocolate Labrador Retriever was placed on the state's Dangerous Dog Registry after he was deemed dangerous by a district judge. Bo had gotten out of the yard and bit a neighborhood teen who was jogging down the street, Reichert said.

According to state law, a dog is considered dangerous if it has severely injured or attacked a person or severely injured or killed a domestic animal without being provoked. Dogs used in the commission of a crime are also considered dangerous.

But the designation doesn't come cheap.

Owners, like Reichert, are required to pay an annual $500 fee to register their animal with the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement and to obtain $50,000 liability insurance and a $50,000 surety bond payable to anyone injured by the dog.

The law also requires owners to keep their dog indoors or confined in a securely enclosed and locked pen, keep the animal muzzled and on a leash when it is outside the enclosure, post warning signs, spay or neuter the dog, microchip it and comply with court-ordered restitution.

Reichert estimates he's spent close to $6,000 over the last six years to comply with these requirements - $500 a year for the registration fee and another $500 a year for insurance.

"It's crazy what you have to pay, especially for insurance and stuff," he said.

But, for him, it's worth the money to keep Bo alive and at home. The only alternative, other than transferring Bo to a new owner or moving him out of state (each option has requirements), is euthanization - something Reichert said he was not willing to consider. 

"(He's) like a family member," Reichert said, holding back tears. "Just because he did something wrong, you don't kill him."

Reichert isn't the only one who feels this way. As of Aug. 1, Bo was one of 22 dangerous dogs from York County and 542 from across the state on the registry. These numbers change each month as dogs are added or removed.

American pit bull terriers and pit bull mixes account for a large portion of the registry. But other breeds, such as German shepherds, Siberian huskies, Rottweilers and Labrador retrievers, are also listed.

"Any dog can bite," said Kristen Donmoyer, director of the state Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement. "Any breed."

The dangerous dog registry was first posted online several years ago so the public could be aware of these animals living in their neighborhoods, Donmoyer said. It's a safety precaution, which the state takes very seriously.

According to a report from the Insurance Information Institute, Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the nation for the number of dog bite liability claims - 988 in 2016.

"I think that speaks volumes about the rate of dog bites," Donmoyer said. 

Last year, the state received reports of 956 dog bites, including 55 in York County. An additional 697 dog bites, including 44 in York County, have been reported so far this year.

"There are a lot of bite cases that never get reported to us as well," she said.

Reichert said he understands that dogs can be dangerous, but he feels the punishments for those that were involved in minor incidents are too severe.

"Just a dog nipping at a kid compared to almost killing ... it's not fair, really," he said.

Donmoyer said a dog would not be deemed dangerous for a minor scratch. 

Of the 22 York County dogs on the registry, Bo, now 10 or 11 years old, has been on the list the longest, and he'll remain on the list for the rest of his life.

Once a dog is deemed dangerous, it is dangerous for life, Donmoyer said. Dogs aren't taken off the registry for good behavior.

"It's just hard on a dog," Reichert said. "The dog's used to running around ... That's what Labs like to do."

Bo can still go outside, but he has to wear a muzzle and a leash, which he doesn't like, Reichert said. So, instead, he spends the majority of the day lying around the house, sleeping and eating.

"It's hard," Reichert said. "It's just hard to see him like that."

Dangerous dogs by county

York: 22

Adams: 7

Lancaster: 13

Lebanon: 1

Franklin: 7

Dauphin: 16

Cumberland: 7

Here's the complete registry.

 

 
This story is part of a partnership between WITF and the York Daily Record.

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