After a dramatic couple of weeks, the Moreauville, LA, board voted, on December 1st, to unanimously repeal the recently passed breed ban that targeted “pit bulls” and Rottweilers.
At this meeting, the entire dangerous dog ordinance was repealed, not just the breed based portion. The only thing that remained at the time was the leash law that had been passed around 20 years ago.
On December 8th, the board voted to implement Louisiana state dangerous dog law. This law is completely breed neutral and focuses on the actions of the dog and owner.
The ban was passed at the request of several residents. It was not a consideration of the board until the request was made. There were multiple incidents with dogs menacing residents, and they finally reached their breaking point.
I spoke to Mayor Timmy Lemoine about several incidents. One resident has their dog chained along the recently built pavilion and play ground area. Families hold birthday parties and gatherings there. Despite there being room on the property for the dog to not be in direct contact with that particular section, that is where the dog was chained. Chained dogs are often frustrated and act out, and this dog is no different. Several complaints had been made from residents fearing the chain would break. Officials attempted to speak to the dog owner, asking that the chain spot be moved back away from the common area, and were met with an extremely hostile response. It went so far that residents stopped using the public area out of fear of this particular dog.
Another issue is a dog that is used intentionally to menace others. We are told a man would sit with his dog on the front porch of his house, near the sidewalk and tell his dog to “Sic ‘em” as people passed.
Mayor Lemoine had concerns about the way some dogs are being housed. There are dogs that are chained all day in the Louisiana summer heat, with no shelter and minimal resources. “A dog out on a chain like that all day goes crazy. Anyone would,” said Lemoine.
He stated that it was the intention of the board that confiscated dogs be held at a local veterinary clinic while the owners arranged for housing elsewhere or elected to have the dogs put down. The thought seemed to be that the dogs would be housed in a better place and cared for. “It isn’t humane the way these dogs are being kept…I don’t see how that is humane out on a chain like that all the time.”
The ordinance was copied from a neighboring town and, as such, the language and use of the word “disposition” was left open to interpretation. Mayor Lemoine said that the implications of the wording were not considered in depth in the passage of the ban and understands why it was interpreted the way it was.
It was the understanding of officials that the ordinance, as written, was constitutional. They were advised by the town attorney that this was the case because it had not been challenged in the municipality it originated from.
October 13th, the board voted to pass the ban. Mayor Lemoine said that they felt stuck. They had been asked to do this by their constituents and did not realize the implications of the law.
Having been advised by the attorney that it was ok and having heard from officials in the town the ban originated from that it was “working” made it seem like a ban would be the cleanest solution to their problems. “I know the owners are the problem here, but we can’t ban the owners so it seemed like we could do something by banning the dogs,” said Lemoine in an interview with us. “We were stuck between a rock and a hard place. It is an election year and they (the residents) made it clear this was what they wanted and if we didn’t do it they wouldn’t vote for us…”
Officials did not expect the ban to garner the attention it did. The story was featured internationally, created a circus of half-truths and opened the door to opportunism and fraud. Much of this attention can be traced to the images of Ohara Owens and Zeus. The media zeroed in on this aspect of the story because of the health problems of the young woman. They took the story and ran with it, taking the statement that the dog was “like a therapy dog” and turning it into Zeus actually being a therapy dog. Fundraisers were started by uninvolved parties, as well as involved parties for personal expenses, unrelated to this issue.
Mayor Lemoine addressed the issue of Zeus in our conversation. He stated that he contacted a reporter at KALB about the issue. “Zeus was never at risk…I received an e-mail from (the family) saying he was an American Bulldog…I told them to throw out the letter…he was safe…Zeus wasn’t a problem. He was in the house and never caused any issues…I didn’t want to talk to (the family) directly because anything I said could be used against me.”
Mayor Lemoine had to disable social media messengers because of threats. We have said this before, will say it again and will likely have to repeat it in the future. Threats of any kind are inappropriate, counter productive and absolutely unwarranted no matter what the circumstances.
In speaking to Mayor Lemoine, several things become clear. This was a case of a lack of adequate research and wanting to act quickly on the request of residents. The intentions of the board were good ones. The behavior of the problem dog owners is abhorrent. At the risk of editorializing, if there is blame to be placed for the passage of this ban, that blame would rest squarely on the shoulders of those who are mismanaging their dogs and creating issues in Moreauville.
It is clear that both Mayor Lemoine and the board care deeply about their community. “We are a nice little town and we don’t want people to have to fear,” said Lemoine.
People readily ascribe negative intentions to officials who pass these laws but most often the intentions are not bad ones but more poorly thought out in the rush to act.
It is easy to get lost in emotion and vitriol when dealing with matters of breed discriminatory laws. We cannot allow ourselves to get wrapped up in half-truths and rhetoric. We have to be open to honest dialogue about the needs of the community at large and build bridges with officials on all levels. Nothing is gained in threats and hatred and indeed we have more to lose by indulging in these paths. We cannot expect everyone to understand how breed based laws affect the community without a thorough and thoughtful conversation.
For the most part intentions are good, though efforts misplaced and effects misunderstood. Mistakes are made. We must move past these mistakes and offer our help and expertise to officials who find themselves in the difficult position of having to draft a law they have no experience with.
The simple solution is not always the most effective, but it is the most attractive. Lets offer help in place of hate, and build bridges to safer and more humane communities.