Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pit bull discussion ensues at Ridgeland aldermen's meeting

Ridgeland city leaders are expected to discuss a controversial proposal tonight that may call for the banning of certain dog breeds from the city.

Mayor Gene McGee said Monday that the Board of Aldermen and the city's attorneys will review the proposal in a closed session tonight following the board's regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. in Ridgeland City Hall.

The city first presented a proposed amendment to the animal control ordinance in September that called for the banning of pit bulls, Rottweilers, Staffordshire bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers and their offspring in Ridgeland. Public reaction was heated and emotional, prompting the board to delay the vote to gather more information about the practicality and legality of breed specific legislation.

"This is an ordinance that has a very high potential of litigation," said Ridgeland City Attorney Jerry Mills, explaining the plans for a closed session.

A vote on any proposal is, however, unlikely tonight, McGee said.

Last month city leaders said they would have the final draft of the proposal ready for a vote this week, but it wasn't complete in time.

Even so, more than a dozen Ridgeland residents showed up to the board's work session Monday, anxious to comment on the proposed breed ban.

The mayor allowed them to speak and submit any letters, statistics or other materials for consideration.

Two people spoke in favor of a ban, but the comments from others that spoke out were overwhelmingly negative. One neighborhood association submitted a letter, which McGee read aloud, in support of a breed ban in Ridgeland.

Among those against a ban was Gloria Grantham, who along with her husband has been involved in a months-long battle with their next-door-neighbor over the couple's pit bulls and Rottweiler.

"I've owned my Rottweiler six years, and he has not gotten out one time," Grantham said. "It's how you raise a dog."

Several residents offered approving nods.

Ridgeland dog trainer and pediatric nurse Rebecca Bailey also spoke against banning specific breeds.

"When dogs are bred correctly, you're not going to have any problems out of these breeds," Bailey said. "I don't recommend the ban."

But Bailey also said she has witnessed firsthand during her nursing shifts the injuries that can result from dog attacks. She added that those injuries were caused by unsocialized, untrained dogs.

Another Ridgeland nurse said she has seen children that have been mauled severely by vicious dogs and supported a ban on certain breeds in Ridgeland.

Mike Smith of the Dinsmor Homeowners Association said he also supports a breed specific ban.

"I know I'm going to make some people mad," Smith said before segueing into a prepared presentation that included a wealth of statistics on dog attacks. He had cited research by Animal People, an animal protection newspaper, and other like sources to bolster his argument that certain dog breeds are more apt to attack than others.

According to Animal People, pit bulls, Rottweilers and wolf hybrids have been responsible for 931 maulings and nearly 200 deaths in the United States and Canada between 1982 and 2007. Those breeds account for more than 70 percent of all dogs attacks resulting in death and 77 percent of all attacks resulting in maiming.

"The numbers are the numbers," Smith said. "You have a bad day with one of these three breeds, somebody is maimed or somebody is killed. There are no second chances."

Talk of a breed specific ban in Ridgeland comes after months of feuding between the Granthams of 615 Ralde Circle and their neighbor April Scott.

Scott, a single mother of two young girls, describes the Granthams' two pit bulls and Rottweiler as a aggressive and dangerous.

The Granthams at one time kept two other pit bulls and a Jack Russell terrier in addition to the three they have now.

The city in May had granted the couple a special permit to keep six dogs despite a city ordinance allowing no more than three.

The board recently revoked that permit amid the neighbors' heated feud.

Not fully satisfied with the revocation alone, Scott took the Granthams to court and asked for the removal of the remaining "dangerous dogs."

A Ridgeland Municipal Court judge ruled last month the pets aren't dangerous and ordered the neighbors to cease all contact.

The Granthams are currently in the process of building an 8-foot privacy fence to shield their dogs.

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