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Sonoma weighs crackdown on vicious dogs

The Sonoma City Council is considering new restrictions on vicious dogs in response to concerns that the city ordinance does not go far enough to prevent attacks.

The city would define a vicious dog as one that without provocation severely injures or kills a person or other animal. Owners of such dogs would, at the very least, be required to keep them locked up or muzzled when out.

Council members will take up the proposed ordinance at their meeting on Monday.

Sonoma does not have a documented problem with vicious dogs. But Mayor Joanne Sanders last year asked city staff to research the subject after a pregnant Pacifica woman was mauled to death by her own pet, a male, unneutered pit-bull named Gunner.

Sanders sparked a public outcry when she later said she personally supported banning the breed in Sonoma. That led to meetings with city staff, public safety officials and dog advocates, and the draft ordinance that city leaders will take up on Monday.

Bob Edwards, president of Sonoma Valley Dog Owners and Guardians, said Thursday that the group supports the proposed changes, which he said would provide due process for owners whose dogs are deemed a threat.

"The current ordinance doesn't even provide for a hearing," he said. "Whoever decides the dog is vicious is the decider."

Owners of potentially dangerous or vicious dogs would have to have liability insurance and show proof they can pay damages up to $50,000.

There are a number of other proposed ordinance changes that would affect all pet owners in Sonoma. They include allowing leashed dogs in city parks, except at the downtown plaza, and requiring pet owners to pick up after their animals.

Dog owners whose pets bark or howl could get cited if the noise interferes "with the reasonable use and enjoyment of private residential property." The current ordinance states barking is a nuisance if "heard more than 100 feet away."

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