Dogs dangerous?

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Alex Penland and her 2-year-old pitbull Bella play together during Penland’s lunch break from her work as a veterinarian assistant. Penland said Bella doesn’t bark or growl and likes to spend her time watching things through her own dog-height

Sharna Johnson

A new twist proposed for an old law would classify pit bulls and rottweilers as dangerous dogs and it has the fur flying among owners and lovers of those breeds.

The proposal would change the existing Dangerous Dog Act, forcing owners of pit bulls and rottweilers to register those breeds with local animal control offices as dangerous dogs.

If passed, the bill would do more than just give pit bulls and rottweilers a bad name. There would be no more walks through the neighborhood or in the park and owners would be subject to random inspections and a host of other requirements including maintaining liability insurance valued no less than $250,000.

Currently in committee, HB 667 was introduced Feb. 9 by Carlsbad Rep. John Heaton.

A staff member in Heaton’s office said he would not be available Thursday to discuss his position on the bill.

Alex Penland, a Clovis veterinary assistant whose pit bull “Bella” is the love of her life, said she would most likely refuse to register her dog and face the consequences before she would classify her dog as dangerous.

The law would force her to be dishonest, she said. Bella has never bitten anyone or shown even the slightest sign of aggression in her life, said Penland

“It would be a lie. Why would I want to live that lie with my dog?” Penland said.

“I think it’s completely stupid, because these animals are the sweetest dogs and they’re so loyal to their owners and they love kids… They don’t want to be a aggressive dogs, they want love and attention.”

It doesn’t seem fair or logical, Penland said, adding of all the dogs she works with it is actually little dogs, more often than not, that have aggression issues. “(And) their teeth hurt just as bad as a pit bull’s do,” she said.

Rep. Dennis Roch of Tucumcari said the bill is an “over-reaching, knee jerk” reaction to address the issue of dangerous dogs.

Roch, who represents District 67 which includes Curry, Harding, Quay, Roosevelt, San Miguel and Union Counties, said he will absolutely oppose the bill if it comes to a vote in the House.

The existing dangerous dog law identifies a dangerous dog through its behavior and acts it has committed, not by its breed, Roch said.

“We wouldn’t want to call a person a criminal based on how they look or who their family was… I’m going to oppose an effort to identify a dangerous dog by breed, not by its behavior.”

Patty Gouker has owned and worked with rottweilers as show, obedience, therapy and dog safety education dogs in elementary schools for more than 25 years.

“This is upsetting – you can make poodles mean,” Gouker said when she learned of the bill Thursday.

“It’s the people, not the dogs. I love this breed, it’s a wonderful breed. They have been my companions for a long time,” she said.

While they are big dogs and can look intimidating, Gouker said rottweilers make great family and working dogs with an investment on the part of the handler.

“If they’re handled right and they’re trained nicely… they’re very wonderful family dogs. We’ve had them with our grandbabies. When you have a dog, you can’t just throw it out in your back yard and expect it to be a good dog,” she said.

“These dogs will do anything for you once it knows what you want. It’s like everything else, the bad people are the ones that dictate what happens (in law) and that’s wrong, so wrong.”

Louisa Maestes, Clovis’ Animal Control supervisor said any dog can be mean.

“It depends how you raise them,” she said.

“I’ve seen some mighty nice pit bulls in here (at the animal shelter) and then I’ve seen some pit bulls that are aggressive.”

Maestes said animal control officers currently deal with dangerous dogs by issuing a citation to the owner and leaving it to the courts to determine how to proceed and issue rulings.

If the bill were to pass, Maestes said her facility does not have the staff to inspect and document every home where a pit bull or rottweiler lives.

“With the manpower (we have), forget it,” she said. “We don’t have the manpower to be going (to every home) unless we actually get a complaint (about a dog).”

Under HB 667, dangerous dog owners, among other things, would be required to:

• Submit to random, inspections without warrant, of the animal and its enclosure.

• Allow the photographing or permanent marking of the animal for identification.

• Maintain $250,000 liability insurance.

• Keep the animal exclusively on their property except for medical treatment.

• Transport the animal muzzled or caged and restrained with a lead no longer than four feet and under the complete control of an adult.

• Post signs on the premises where the dog is kept clearly warning there is a dangerous dog.

On the web: To track the progress of HB 667, visit

“It’s a bunch of doggie-doo. Look around Clovis, I bet you just about everything in this town has a little bit of pit bull in it… Why label every animal of those particular breeds as being dangerous? If we’re going to do that, then we should probably start doing that with people.”

— Darlene Ray, president of the Clovis Animal Welfare League