Proposed county ordinances will expand the definition of a vicious dog, impose new surcharges on restricted dog licenses and provide stiff fines for owners who violate controls placed on restricted and vicious dogs.

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the introduction of the ordinances Tuesday, scheduling them to return for final approval at the Oct. 3 meeting.

As proposed, the ordinance amending the Animals and Fowl section of the County Code would allow the supervising animal control officer to declare a dog “vicious” after a first-time offense for killing or severely injuring another domestic animal.

That’s a step beyond provisions in the current ordinance, which allows a vicious dog determination it if inflicts serious injury or kills a person when unprovoked, said Jan Glick, director of Animal Services.

“This change is brought forth following incidents with an egregious first-time dog attack where a finding of vicious dog would be most appropriate for public safety,” Glick said in a report to the board.

Currently, a dog that commits kills or severely injures another animal can be classified as a “restricted” dog, but that would change if the proposed ordinance is adopted.

Conditions imposed to control a vicious dog are more severe than those applied to restricted dogs, and the county can seize a vicious dog if its owner fails to implement the conditions.

Owners who violate the conditions imposed on restricted and vicious dogs by the county would face stiff fines under the proposed fee schedule amendment, which also would add a new fee that might encourage dog owners to make sure their animals are not aggressive.

Just the hearing for a dog determined to be restricted or vicious would cost its owner $412. Owners of restricted dogs would also face a $60 surcharge on their licenses.

Restricted-dog owners would face a fine of $500 for violating the conditions imposed by the county, while vicious-dog owners would face a fine of $1,000 for violating conditions.

Another change will allow the Animal Control to use records of a dog being declared vicious in another county as well as records of a dog’s previous behavior in Santa Barbara County to declare it vicious here.

Surviving an attack

Supervisors heard a firsthand account by Suzanne Duca, of Santa Barbara, who also showed graphic photos depicting the consequences of being attacked by a vicious dog when she and a friend were horseback riding.

“(My horse) is in retirement after having been terrorized, bitten and chased down the beach for half a mile,” said Duca, who was bucked off and narrowly missed being trampled in the attack.

She said her friend’s horse suffered a hole in its chest and a wound to its flank that could have resulted in the loss of its leg.

Duca said she’d been through a public hearing where a dog was classified restricted, but the owner didn’t have to pay a dime for it.

“This person who had her dog restricted took it to a leash-free park, where, of course, it attacked another animal, and that dog was ripped up,” Duca said.

She noted the city of Santa Barbara held a hearing on the dog that attacked her, but the county was unable to use the evidence presented at that hearing to hold a secondary hearing.

She said because of her experiences, she supported the proposed ordinance changes.

“This is really for the common good,” Duca said

One change in the proposed ordinance would cut some dogs a little more slack.

Currently, a dog is automatically classified as vicious if it engages in or has been trained to engage in illegal dog fighting. That would no longer be automatic, if the ordinance is approved.

First District Supervisor Das Williams said striking that provision was logical and rational.

“There are some pretty well-known cases of sound rehabilitation of former fighting dogs, and it’s better to evaluate them on an individual basis rather than assume all former fighting dogs … should be designated as vicious dogs,” he said.

Chairwoman and 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann said blame is often misplaced in cases of dog fighting.

“It’s usually the owner and not the dog (at fault), but sometimes the dog is the one to suffer the consequences for poor training, not the owner,” she said.

Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam agreed with that assessment.

“As a guy who works with animals on a frequent basis, of at least three species, the animals always pay,” he said. “It’s never the people’s fault, it’s always the animal’s fault, and the animal always pays for the bad behavior of the people.”

“There’s no excuse for an animal causing those injuries we saw in those pictures,” he said, referring to the graphic photos Duca had displayed.