Mt. Oliver Borough Council’s March public meeting began with a public hearing concerning dog attacks in the borough.

Emilie Nottle requested the public hearing to advocate for stricter enforcement of leash laws in Mt. Oliver. “We shouldn’t have to be afraid to take our dog for a walk,” she said.

Ms. Nottle testified she and her small dog were recently attacked by an off-leash German shepherd where she suffered four “pretty serious wounds.” She said she struggled with requesting the hearing noting many dogs in the borough are fine off leash, “but I think safety is the highest priority.” She added her doctor told her if a small child had suffered the same wounds she had, it could have been serious or even fatal.

Ms. Nottle also asked if borough officials would consider sponsoring dog trainings to encourage personal responsibility among pet owners.

“This has been a problem. You’re not the only one,” stated Councilman Nick Viglione. He suggested if some of the owners were cited by the police, they might respect the laws more.

Police Chief Matt Juzwick was questioned by a member of the gallery on what action the police took because of the dog attack. He replied there wasn’t any action taken because the victim declined to press charges.

Ms. Nottle said she was hesitant to report the attack. She added she didn’t know if the dog had bitten anyone before or if it would be put down because of the attack, “I didn’t know what would happen to the dog.”

Chief Juzwick explained the borough does have leash laws that can be enforced, but most people don’t make a report after being attacked by dogs.

The chief said in the past, the borough used Triangle Pet, an animal control service. Years ago, the company closed down and ceased operations. Since then, borough officials have reached out several times to the City of Pittsburgh for animal control services, without interest from the city.

“They said they didn’t want to come into Mt. Oliver and provide services, even if we were to pay them,” he said. The chief added that SHACOG (the South Hills Area Council of Governments, of which Mt. Oliver is a member) has animal control services, which is very expensive, but they don’t want to come into Mt. Oliver.

A third animal control company, serving North Hills communities, also declined to provide services to the borough.

The Chief said animal control services have been “dropped into the lap” of the police department. “We’re not trained for this. We do the best we can.”

Another problem, he said, is many of the owners of problem dogs don’t respond to off-leash citations and if they appear for their hearing, they ignore the fines. He would later add, a judge could issue a fine of up to $1,000.

To a question from Councilmember Lisa Pietrusza, Chief Juzwick said the police would respond first to an animal control call to make sure the dog wasn’t hurting anyone. They would then contact the animal control company, who would then have the power to get the dog under control and/or cite the owner.

Ms. Nottle suggested borough officials make residents more aware of the leash laws and increase the visibility of signs throughout Mt. Oliver stating the requirement. She said the signs at Transverse Park are too faded to read.

Borough Manager Rick Hopkinson said they could increase the visibility of the signage and put the requirements in the borough’s newsletter that goes out to all households.

Councilmember Nick Viglione noted dogs aren’t permitted in borough parks.

Councilmember Aaron Graham agreed they need a campaign about being a responsible pet owner in the borough and suggested one facet is the upcoming Master Plan for Transverse Park. He said some residents have been inquiring about a possible dog park at Transverse or Ormsby Park and while dog parks have their own associated problems, they tend to attract responsible dog owners.

Mayor JoAnna Taylor said she would contact City of Pittsburgh officials again to see if they would be interested in providing animal control services. She suggested council look at the borough’s ordinances concerning pets to see if they could be amended to give the borough more control with citations and fines.

Solicitor Emily Mueller said there could be a ticketing option with a low amount, around $25, instead of a citation requiring a hearing before a judge.

In the Question-and-Answer portion, former mayor Frank Bernardini had a comment on the program to put veterans on banners in the borough. He noted when the program was first discussed there were only a few people who submitted good quality copies. He said in 2019 the program was for veterans, male or female. “Don’t ask, don’t tell, that’s part of the law now.”

Mr. Bernardini then presented his suggested criteria for having a veteran’s photo on a banner: Present or past resident of the borough; Proof of an Honorable Discharge; A good quality photograph; Optional rank and years of service; and, Contact telephone number for the person submitting the veteran. He also asked if the banners are weatherproof, that they remain up year-round.

Former councilman Francis Heckman added, “You have to be a homeowner, not a fly by night for this stuff.”

Ms. Mueller said if the borough decides to go forward with the banner program, she has sent Mr. Hopkinson eligibility requirements other municipalities have used for similar programs. The borough manager said he received the information from the solicitor and council has decided to form a committee to establish the criteria for Mt. Oliver veterans’ banners. He hasn’t presented the information to the council, preferring to wait until the committee has had an opportunity to discuss criteria.

“One other thing and it may upset some people,” Mr. Bernardini said. “If I had my way, I’d draw the line at transgenders. If anybody that’s ever served, you’d understand what I’m talking about.” Several council members expressed disapproval with his comments.

Council President Amber McGough said they wouldn’t get into that argument at the time and a committee will be formed to discuss the criteria for inclusion in the program.

During the regular business portion of the meeting, Borough Council voted to hire Jenna Kerr as a full-time police officer; Adopted Ordinance 993 amending the Rental License Ordinance; Authorized an application to the Pennsylvania DCNR for a Transverse Park Master Plan Grant request; and, approved two applications for the Allegheny County Vacant Property Recovery Program.

Tom Smith is the former Managing Editor of the South Pittsburgh Reporter from 2000 until 2023. Following in his mother's footsteps, he delivered news that changed our world.