In the wake of vicious dog maulings in the area, Brookhaven Town Board voted unanimously last week to adopt a new policy that will keep a tighter leash on dangerous dogs and their owners.
“If there’s a message tonight, the message is to dog owners: watch your dogs, protect them, protect them against other pets, and be a responsible owner because if you’re not, the town is putting things in place to act as a deterrent,” Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said during the Jan. 24 town board meeting.
Under the new county code amendment, entitled “Dog Control and Animal Welfare,” which reflects the stricter state law for dealing with dangerous dogs, the definition of “dangerous dogs” has been changed to include not just dogs that attack people, as the code was previously written, but other pets or service animals as well.
Now the town, or the person who was attacked, can present evidence with regard to an attack before a judge or local animal control officers.
“I don’t think anyone who takes a long hard look at the facts of what happened last summer could possibly conclude that the existing town codes did enough to deter negligent dog owners.”
The owners of a dog deemed dangerous who do not properly house their pets will face large fines. A first-time offender of dog attacks will now pay $500 as opposed to a previous fine of $100, and third-time offenders will pay up to $1,000, and must keep their dogs leashed, and in some cases, muzzled, when out in public.
“It’s an attempt to place the onus on the owner,” Romaine’s chief of staff Emily Pines, who worked closely with town attorneys to craft the revised law, said during the meeting. “If the dog is going to be around in the neighborhood, the owner has a responsibility to keep the neighbors and other people in the community safe.”
The new policy comes after two incidents in Rocky Point last August wherein three loose pit bulls attacked and severely injured a woman and her boxer on a beach. Just a week later, the same pit bulls jumped over a fence onto a resident’s property and killed two Chihuahuas and injured their owner.
The pit bulls, which were returned following the first attack without penalty, were later euthanized by the town.
Rocky Point resident Matt Tuthill, who lives close to where the attacks occurred, spoke in support of the stricter rules on dog owners during the public hearing on the amendments.
Since the attacks last summer, Tuthill said he and his wife keep a knife in their 9-month-old son’s stroller whenever they take a walk around the neighborhood.
“It’s a huge concern to go outside with our son, and we even stopped going outside for a while,” Tuthill said. “I don’t think anyone who takes a long hard look at the facts of what happened last summer could possibly conclude that the existing town codes did enough to deter negligent dog owners. A loose dog that’s allowed to roam a neighborhood is as much a danger to other children and pets as it is to itself.”
He asked that dog owners in opposition to the proposed policy “please support common sense.”
Colin Goldberg, another Rocky Point resident, who founded the website Brookhaven Bites directly following the attack on his neighbor’s Chihuahuas, echoed Tuthill’s call for enforcement on dog owners.
“Let’s not forget that five dogs were killed,” Goldberg said. “If you care about the welfare of dogs, you will choose to support these changes as well as look more deeply into a real solution to this issue.”
“If the dog is going to be around in the neighborhood, the owner has a responsibility to keep the neighbors and other people in the community safe.”
Medford resident Rick Palomo said he’s been dealing with loose pit bulls and their negligent owners for the last few years. A year and a half ago, two pit bulls charged up his front deck and killed his cat, which he said was handicapped and “never had a chance” against the dogs. About two months ago, one of the pit bulls attacked and pinned down another cat of his, but his son was able to save it in time.
He said that with town’s previous policy of capturing dangerous dogs and releasing them back to the owner after a small fine, the dogs are back in the streets running rampant and “terrorizing the neighborhood” within days.
“We don’t know what to do; we finally set up traps in my backyard last Friday and police came and captured the dogs,” Palomo said. “We’re doing everything by the book … I’m afraid they’re going to kill a kid or attack somebody and really mess them up. We have to put a stop to it. I don’t want to see the dogs get killed.”
Palomo’s son, Joseph, said the pit bull owners would just laugh at the old legislation.
“It’s time to get legal action involved, they won’t listen to anybody anymore,” he said. “They said ‘Our dogs don’t bite people, they just don’t like cats,’ and that’s very evil.”
While none of the dangerous dog owners were present at the meeting to make a statement against the proposed codes, Laurette Richin, founder of Long Island Bulldog Rescue, told board members that creating strict laws is not the solution.
“I’ve been rescuing and placing bulldogs and pit bulls in [the Town of Brookhaven] for 17 years and I think people need to be responsible with each other and mind their neighborhood by reporting these things,” Richin said. “I don’t think this should be legislated more.”
In response, Councilman Michael Loguercio (R-Middle Island) said that “sometimes you have to pass a law to protect people from themselves, so not only does this law emulate the state’s law but it helps protect the dog owners as well.”
The new policy will be in effect immediately.