The ‘Dangerous Dog’ Law in Massachusetts You Might Not Know
Last week, while I was browsing the New Bedford Parks and Recreation site, I was surprised to find a list of rules created by the park board that included some strict regulations surrounding pit bulls.
On the list, the city's site included an ordinance from the summer of 1996 that specifically targets pit bulls. It required pit bull owners to pay a special fee of $25. It also required owners to keep their pit bulls out of any New Bedford playgrounds and at least 500 feet away from all playgrounds in New Bedford parks regardless of whether the dogs are on a leash.
The ordinance looked pretty out of date to me and my suspicions were confirmed by New Bedford Animal Control Officer Manny Maciel.
Maciel told me that New Bedford dropped that ordinance back in 2004 because it unfairly targeted pit bulls.
It was a simple mistake on the website. No judgment whatsoever, but it did spark a conversation that taught me a lot of things I didn't know about dangerous dogs.
Interestingly enough, Maciel told me that Massachusetts actually looked to New Bedford's updated ordinance when it created a statewide law that targeted "dangerous dogs" instead of categorizing an entire breed.
"So many people are afraid of pit bulls, but they may have some of the kindest hearts you'd want to meet in an animal," Maciel said. "It's all about how they have been treated."
Surprising Breed Bites Kids the Most
On the other hand, many people would be surprised to find out which breed was the most common for dog bites.
"Cocker spaniels," Maciel said. "The dogs have a tendency to get ear aches. When little kids hug them and pick them up, a cocker spaniel with an ear ache might lash out and bite the child because they are being hurt."
How the New Law Works
Massachusetts state law now bans the targeting of dogs by breed. Each dog is now judged on its own behavior.
If the dog is reported as a dangerous dog, steps are taken.
"We'll require the owners to get them spayed or neutered. We'll require them to get a chip put in. When it starts hitting the owners in the pocketbook, they start to realize that they have to do a better job caring for these dogs," Maciel said.
The now-defunct ordinance:
Chapter 4, Article II, Sec. 4-29 of the code of City ordinances was amended on July 1, 1996 by the City Council Pit Bull – Notwithstanding any licensing requirement to the contrary, no person shall own, or keep or harbor, or allow to be upon any premises occupied by him or under his control any dog or dog species known as a “pit bull” without first obtaining a special permit therefore in the office of the City Clerk. An applicant of said permit shall pay a fee of $25.00 and said permit shall be valid for the life of said dog. No such dogs are allowed on any City playgrounds and within (500) feet of all playgrounds located in City Parks, whether at large or under restraint. The provisions of this permit procedure shall be enforced by the dog officer, any police officer, or parking supervisor of the city.