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Paula Ybarra-Provost still bears the scars from a vicious dog attack in March of last year. After multiple surgeries, including one only a week ago, she hopes she can put the incident behind her.

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Minneapolis poised to clamp down on dog owners

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT
  • Star Tribune
  • January 18, 2008 - 12:19 AM

Paula Ybarra-Provost was remarkably forgiving last spring after two dogs owned by her neighbor nearly mauled her to death inside the neighbor's northeast Minneapolis home. She didn't blame their owner and was upset when the dogs were destroyed.

The incident and two other serious attacks last spring constituted the worst spate of dog incidents within memory of enforcement officials. And they prompted a response.

The city immediately tightened its procedures for checking whether dog owners have complied with city requirements governing dogs declared dangerous, as those that attacked Ybarra-Provost had been.

And the City Council today is expected to approve stronger restrictions for owners of the dogs declared dangerous or potentially dangerous.

The city has 350 such dogs.

A key provision would forbid dog ownership for five years to those owners who don't comply with the new rules.

The proposed ordinance also would make it more difficult for a violent felon to keep a dog that weighs more than 20 pounds or poses a danger if mistreated. A new city permit would be required.

The consequences of the attack go on for Ybarra-Provost. She now has only one vocal cord, and only two-thirds of her normal breath.

But she's determined not to let the attack define her life. "I have to move on. I'm not going to be a victim. I'm going to live my life."

Ybarra-Provost, 38, recently underwent another surgery -- her third since her initial hospitalization. She had four small strokes shortly after the attack caused by clots that developed near her throat wound, and was at risk for more.

She got a stent in a vertebral artery last week at Hennepin County Medical Center to treat an aneurysm resulting from the attack and reduce the possibility of more clots. "Right now, everything's great," she said.

Ybarra-Provost doesn't remember the attack last March, which occurred when she took her daughter to use a bathroom in the house of neighbor Tom Mohrbacker, whom she'd known since high school. The dogs, an American bulldog that attacked her throat, and a pit bull that bit her foot, had been declared dangerous after attacking a 7-year-old the previous December.

The city's protocol called for checking that owners of declared dogs had complied with city requirements for getting insurance, confining dogs and taking other steps. But the city hadn't followed up months later to see whether Mohrbacker had complied before Ybarra-Provost was attacked.

Animal control officials say they changed procedures after the attack to make sure there are follow-ups. They say they're now more likely to impound a dog after a bite. They also began working with a task force of dog people on ways to upgrade the city's pressure on owners of dogs declared dangerous or potentially so.

Mohrbacker pleaded guilty to one of three misdemeanor charges against him, was charged $125 and given a three-month workhouse sentence stayed for a year.

There were calls after the Ybarra-Provost incident for outlawing some breeds. But state law forbids breed bans, although a pending legislative proposal would outlaw several breeds.

The task force also opposed a breed ban, saying that the focus ought to be on owner responsibility. Ralph Remington told fellow council members Thursday of a friend who owns two pit bulls that he described as "sweet" and good around young children.

Ybarra-Provost said she believes pit bulls get a bad rap, but she's more leery around them now. She's talked to Mohrbacker since the incident, although both have moved.

Some fine-tuning of the ordinance is expected today by the council. There's disagreement about increasing some citation fees, for example. The proposal would make it cost more to disregard the city's licensing requirement than the $30 annual license fee for spayed and neutered animals.

But Ybarra-Provost said she hasn't paid much attention to the proposed changes. She has two jobs and three children to tend to.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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