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Politics Northwest

The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

January 16, 2014 at 10:55 AM

Dog-bite victims speak out against bill to end breed discrimination

Ozzy and his owner Zak Thatcher  weighed in on a bill to prevent breed-specific restrictions in cities. Bull terriers are banned in some parts of Washington. (Photo by Ashley Stewart)

Any dog can bite, said Rep. Sherry Appleton, who is sponsoring a bill that would eliminate a dog’s breed as a consideration in determining whether the animal is dangerous.

The House Judicial Committee held a hearing Thursday on the Poulsbo Democrat’s bill.

House Bill 2117 would prevent cities from creating breed-specific restrictions for dog owners and would instead use behavior to decide if a dog was dangerous or potentially dangerous.

Under state law, a dangerous dog is one that injures a person or kills a pet without being provoked. A potentially dangerous dog is one that bites or threatens the safety of a person or pet without being provoked.

Zak Thatcher, an emergency room nurse, made a four-hour drive to weigh in on the bill. She said that she sees a lot of dog bites at work but no consistency on what breeds did the damage.

She brought with her Ozzy, a young bull terrier Thatcher said would be illegal in some parts of the state.

“This dog is banned in several cities based on his appearance,” she said. “He’s a puppy who has had a very long day … but the dog himself is harmless.”

Thatcher’s testimony was kept short because the dog was barking.

Ellen Taft, attacked by two dogs in the late 1980s, has a different view of the issue. While any dog can bite, she said in an interview, not every dog can break bones. She has been advocating against pit bulls since she was attacked.

Taft was part of a citizen’s initiative to heavily restrict ownership of fighting breeds, which include pit bulls, bull terriers and other breeds.

Appleton said breed-specific laws are unfair to responsible dog owners and that a dog’s behavior can’t be predicted by its breed alone.

She said the bill would overturn city laws such as one in Yakima where the City Council recently upheld a ban on pit bull breeds  first introduced in 1987.

Colleen Lynn, part of Dogsbite.org, an advocacy group for dog-bite victims, submitted written testimony to the hearing.

“Cities need to be able to respond when they have a problem and this handcuffs them on an issue as basic as animal control,” said Lynn, who was attacked by a dog in 2007.

Appleton said that though the bill would overturn existing breed-specific legislation in cities, it’s important.

“I honestly believe that when you discriminate against a dog, you discriminate against a person,” she said.

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