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Officials Mull Mandatory Injury Insurance For Dog Owners In Middletown

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Pit Bull File Photo (credit: Ramin Talaie/Getty Images)

Pit Bull File Photo (credit: Ramin Talaie/Getty Images)

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MIDDLETOWN, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — It’s not the bark, but the bite that has Middletown thinking of charting new territory in the realm of requiring insurance coverage.

The small city in central Orange County is mulling over a proposal to require owners of dogs larger than 25 pounds to have insurance coverage in case the canine causes injury.

The city of 30,000 residents has logged more than a hundred serious dog bites in the past three years, most from unleashed large breed dogs like Pit Bulls.

Middletown firefighter Bob Moser told CBS 2′s Lou Young was attacked in January while conducting a code inspection.

“The dog came out of nowhere, bit through my jacket and apparently caught me with one of his front teeth and it ripped and that’s where it pulled away,” he said pointing at the healing 5-inch scar on his forearm. “The skin was actually gone.”

The city’s Public Works Director, Jacob Tawil, says his people have had similar experiences at the rate of amount one a month this year. “They use our guys as food to munch on,” he joked. “Something has to be done.”

Mayor Joseph DeStafano’s solution is to require insurance for all renters in the city who have dogs larger than 25 pounds. He says he got the weight limit by studying the New York City Housing Authority’s ban on large dogs in public housing.

Rather than ban the large animals he says requiring liability insurance will force owners to accept financial responsibility for the pets they choose to own.

“Home owners are exempt,” he explained, “because most homeowner policies cover pet incidents. But even in those cases if a homeowner’s dog is involved in an incident, we’re going to require the extra insurance before renewing the animal’s license.”

Mayor DeStefano has been on a crusade to crack down on so-called “slumlords and absentee landlords,” and considers the dog liability proposal another weapon to use in that fight. “They (the landlords) will be responsible for their tenant getting the insurance and if not they must begin eviction proceedings.”

The Middletown Landlords Association is on record opposing the idea and tenant Dee Dee Baggatta, a dog owner, agrees. She thinks the city is penalizing responsible pet owners along with the irresponsible.

“My dogs don’t run loose,” she said. “They’re on the porch, and we walk ‘em with chains.”

With two dogs she would have to find roughly $600 a year to buy $100,000 worth of liability.

The proposed ordinance is on a public hearing agenda scheduled in two weeks. “We know it’s controversial,” the mayor said, “but we’re prepared to go ahead.”

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