June 18--SCHENECTADY -- The city has backed off the idea of making all dog owners carry insurance, instead requiring such coverage for people who have received tickets for loose or dangerous dogs.
The City Council originally proposed that every dog owner would have to have $50,000 of liability insurance, coverage that's already provided under homeowners insurance but that would cost a renter $150 to $250 a year. Such insurance could help compensate dog attack victims like Hamilton Hill resident Shirleen Lucas, whose ears and scalp were ripped away during an attack by three pit bulls in August 2011. The dog's owner, Jasmine Tirado, was prosecuted in City Court and received 30 days in jail. But there was no money available to compensate Lucas for pain and suffering.
But now, according to information that will be provided to City Council Monday, Schenectady will greatly tone down the legislation, requiring that only owners of problem pets get insurance. People who are determined by a city judge to have a dangerous dog, or receive two violations in one year for loose dogs, would be required to have liability insurance for each dog in their possession. The proposal says only "possession" of a dog would need to be proved. Many residents try to wiggle out of prosecution by saying they don't technically own the animal, assistant city attorney Carl Falotico says in the written proposal. If the person is ticketed for a problem dog again and doesn't have insurance, punishment would range from 15 days to one year in Schenectady County Jail.
When the original law was presented by City Attorney John Polster last month, City Council members had little to say about it, instead waiting to hear from residents during a public hearing May 29. But only one person, possible Democratic City Council candidate Robert Sanders, spoke.
It's unknown why the law is being scaled back. City Council President Denise Brucker could not be reached for comment Sunday.
But Mayor Gary McCarthy, who has been neutral on the idea, said requiring insurance of every dog owner might be difficult to enforce and that the most important thing in combating dog attacks is getting the animals licensed. "What gives you the desired effect for your problem population as opposed to increasing costs for people who are playing by the rules?" he said.
The city has also proposed that any unlicensed dog brought to an animal shelter as a stray will only be kept for three days until the dog is put up for adoption or euthanized. The move would save the city up to $150 per stray dog, as Schenectady now allows eight days before a shelter determines a dog's fate.
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