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By Donna Jones for Santa Cruz Sentinel

WATSONVILLE — In the future, felons might not be running with big dogs on city streets.

Under a proposal to be considered by the City Council today, felons would need approval from animal control authorities and a $750 permit to own a dog weighing more than 20 pounds.

Officials also could seize unaltered canines that exceed the 20-pound limit, and the cost of a permit to keep any dog not spayed or neutered would triple, from $100 to $300.

The proposal seeks to strengthen a 4-month-old ordinance designed to protect the public from dangerous dogs.

“The whole thing is to give us some teeth where you have convicted felons or known gang members walking around town with essentially a loaded weapon,” said Deputy Police Chief Robert Knill.

Knill also said 20 pounds was set as the limit because dogs that size or larger pose more of a risk of injury, particularly to children.

Authorities say the existing ordinance wasn’t enough to prevent an attack on a 64-year-old woman by a pit bull on New Year’s Day. The woman was walking on Virginia Street when the unaltered male dog, which had broken free of a backyard tether and was running free, attacked her, biting her calf before its owner was able to pull the animal away. The woman had to be hospitalized, and the owner surrendered the dog to be put down.

The owner had been cited previously for not neutering the dog. Under the proposed rules, animal control officers would have been able to seize it.

According to authorities, unaltered animals are responsible for nearly 80 percent of dog bites in the county.

Under existing rules, owners of dogs deemed potentially dangerous or vicious due to their behavior must micro-chip the animals, pay a premium for a pet license and buy $100,000 in liability insurance. The dogs also are required to wear a fluorescent collar and be kept inside a secure yard.