Three baseball bats stand lined up at Jon Taylor’s front door.
Every time he takes the family dog for a walk, he takes one with him.
“I don’t feel safe,” he said.
The Taylor family of Lee’s Summit remains in mourning following a March 12 attack on their other dog, a poodle named Angel, by a neighborhood dog. The family pet was so mangled she had to be euthanized.
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The Taylors were angry enough at losing their companion. Then they found documents showing the same boxer mix had attacked before — biting another pet and a person. How, they wondered, could a demonstrably dangerous dog be allowed to bite again?
“I was livid when I saw the priors,” Taylor said. “They are holding property rights above public safety.”
Taylor doesn’t believe Lee’s Summit animal control officers enforce the city’s dangerous dog codes. Proceedings against the problem dog — which could lead to muzzle orders or, most extremely, putting the animal to death — will be heard Thursday in Lee’s Summit Municipal Court.
But a larger dialogue regarding aggressive dogs long has been underway across the Kansas City area. Some cities have adopted code revisions that supporters — including several animal welfare agencies — say give animal control officers more power to deal with troublesome dogs.
Unified Government officials in Kansas City, Kan., approved such revisions last December. Lee’s Summit officials, meanwhile, insist their ordinance is strict and effective, and also respects the rights of residents dog owners and their victims of attack.
“The night it happened, the victim’s family wanted the dog confiscated,” said Maj. Mark Taylor of the Lee’s Summit police. “But we don’t have the legal power to do that.
“A dog is considered personal property, just like a car.”
Just about every afternoon, Angel needed her walk.
On March 12, Reva Jo Norton, Jon Taylor’s sister-in-law, led Angel on her familiar route through the Pryor Meadows neighborhood.
Then a boxer mix ran at her.
“The stray aggressor dog attacked Angel, biting at the neck,” according to a Lee’s Summit animal control activity report. “Mrs. Norton screamed and attempted to separate the dogs.”
A neighbor ran up and tried to help.
“The dog was in full attack mode and wouldn’t let go,” the neighbor added in a subsequent Police Department witness account.
“Every time we were pulling, it was just shredding the little dog’s neck apart.”
An owner of the attacking dog ultimately helped separate the animals.
At a Lee’s Summit emergency animal hospital, a veterinarian described multiple puncture wounds on the left and right sides of Angel’s body, a laceration 1 inch deep and 2 inches long at her throat and several broken ribs.
An animal control officer concluded that Zoey, the boxer mix, had busted through the storm door of her owner’s house and bolted toward the poodle.
Not long after, Taylor texted his 11-year-old son.
“He said, ‘Please come home,’” said Braden.
The two drove to the animal hospital, where Braden reached out and petted the dog a last time.
Five days later, Taylor submitted an Animal Control Department record disclosure request that showed Zoey’s violent past.
Two initial incidents — one categorized as “stray aggressive” and the other an “animal vs. animal” call — resulted in no injuries to any dog or person.
A third incident last September involved a fight between Zoey and another dog in which a person suffered bite wounds on the hand and wrist. In Lee’s Summit, any dog that bites or draws blood with a scratch spends 10 days quarantined under observation for rabies.
Officials observed no symptoms in Zoey and released her to her owners, who paid a fee. The victim dog needed staples for a 2-inch chest laceration. But Zoey’s owners agreed to pay expenses and no charges were filed, officials said.
But on March 13, Lee’s Summit officials delivered a “dangerous dog” letter to Zoey’s owners, followed by an “animal at large” violation charge.
The municipal judge has wide latitude. In extreme cases, a judge could order an animal to be put down. The city ordinance also allows for lesser measures, such as building a secure pen to contain the animal, installing signs to alert neighbors to the dog’s presence, equipping the animal with a bright orange collar and muzzle when leaving the home and ordering $300,000 in liability insurance.
And any dog, whether previously declared to be dangerous, considered responsible for an unprovoked severe or fatal attack on a human being or another animal could be ordered to be put down.
Rodney Wagner, the city’s animal control manager, said he hadn’t known about the September incident that preceded the March 12 attack.
“Had I known,” he said, “I would have started a dangerous dog case.”
City officials believe the incident reflects a one-time communications breakdown — not a shortcoming in the city’s animal codes.
“We are looking at internal procedures to make sure we don’t have something that falls through the cracks,” said Taylor of the city’s Police Department.
Other cities are revisiting animal codes in ways that, some believe, could help officials better identify problem dogs.
Last December, Unified Government officials created a new category for “nuisance animals.” That designation could be applied to animals seen “running at large” or scaring residents, said Katie Barnett. She’s an attorney representing Professionals for a Humane & Safe Kansas City, a coalition of animal welfare organizations that includes Wayside Waifs and the Humane Society of Greater Kansas City.
The ordinance calls for graduated penalties for animals that “re-offend.” Raytown, Bonner Springs and Roeland Park officials have approved language requiring re-offending dogs to wear muzzles or be removed from the city, Barnett said.
The Lee’s Summit ordinance contains similar language. But the city’s code does not appear to have graduated penalties for re-offending animals, Barnett said.
“Lee’s Summit has ordinance language to address nuisance animals and dangerous animals,” she said, “but that language is wholly meaningless without adequate record keeping and enforcement by animal control.”
Beth Murano, Lee’s Summit police legal adviser, said that while Kansas City, Kan., may use an administrative process to identify nuisance animals, Lee’s Summit uses its municipal court. Although there is no gradation of penalties set out in the city’s ordinance, the court is allowed discretion in responding to cases.
“You will see a gradation of penalties in practice,” Murano said.
The group that hired Barnett to work with cities, said Kate Field, humane society CEO, believes “if there is an aggressive dog or cat, owners need to be held accountable.”
The city’s Animal Control Department responded to 9,848 calls in 2014, the highest total in the past five years. Last year, department officers responded to 66 incidents involving dog bites on individuals and 38 dog-on-dog fights.
The city’s “dangerous dog” designation is considered the last resort for an animal in Lee’s Summit. Of an estimated 25,000 dogs within city boundaries, there are seven “active” dangerous dogs being kept under strict restrictions.
“Our ordinance allows us to declare a lot of dogs dangerous, but you still need discretion, just as a police officer does,” Taylor with the Police Department said. Otherwise, he said, “I couldn’t fathom a guess as to how many dangerous dogs we would have with that designation.”
Zoey’s family also has suffered consequences from the March 12 incident, said Brandie Clark, one of her owners.
“It’s been very upsetting to my kids,” Clark said. “My daughter has been made fun of.”
Clark said she has acquired a muzzle for Zoey, as well as $300,000 in liability insurance. She has tried, without luck, to find an area shelter willing to take in Zoey, who has been in her family for three years.
In the March 12 attack, Zoey had been secured inside her home until she broke the storm door lock.
“My dog is not vicious, and I am not a negligent owner,” Clark said. “I feel terrible for that family. It’s a sad situation.”
Jon Taylor remains dissatisfied with the city’s animal enforcement.
He said he has not retained a lawyer but does hope to receive restitution for Angel’s $700 animal hospital bill.
“My concern is public safety,” he said. “Why have a code if it is not going to be enforced, particularly when you are trying to address repeated aggressive behaviors?”
Taylor has offered to appear before the city’s public safety committee to discuss the code. But that would be after the municipal court hearing this Thursday.
Eleven-year-old Braden doesn’t plan to attend.
“I just want the right thing to happen,” the boy said.