Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mobile considers pit bull exile

Like most house cats, Peppy enjoyed napping in the sun, which is exactly what he was doing when a neighbor’s pit bull broke into the screened porch and gave Peppy a rude awakening.Peppy’s owner returned home to the scene of a gruesome murder: Peppy, dead on the floor of the screened porch, and his killer, the pit bull, still at the scene, standing over the cat’s mangled remains.

Kathy Brown, mother of Peppy’s owner, who prefers to remain anonymous, claims the offending dog’s owner is negligent and does nothing to keep his pit bulls from roaming the streets despite having had multiple complaints filed against him.

Brown’s greatest concern, as was presented to the Mobile City Council, is had the dog’s timing been different, her 3-month-old and 3-year-old grandchildren could have been the subjects of the mauling.

Mobile City Council is taking Brown’s concerns seriously, and breed specific legislation (BSL) regarding pit bulls may soon be in the works.

Council President Reggie Copeland explained he has already taken interest in this topic. He noted two pits living next door to St. Pius X Catholic School on Sage Avenue. Copeland recognizes the potential for danger and is focusing on situations where pits could possibly maul small children to death.

Presently, city attorney Jim Rossler is reviewing Brown’s complaints and examining other cities’ approaches regarding BSL. Undoubtedly he will discover that Orange Beach has a vicious animal ordinance in place, although, as Copeland firmly explained, Mobile is targeting pit bulls exclusively.

Orange Beach’s ordinance classifies a vicious animal as one who attacks without provocation, is bred for fighting purposes or has been trained to attack. Animals classified as vicious by the city are required to be confined and leashed at all times, and owners of vicious animals are required to notify the public with a posting at the entrance to the animal’s enclosure.

Orange Beach’s codes also stipulate that if a vicious animal owner does not comply with the constraining specifications, the city reserves the right to apprehend the animal. If the owner does not modify the animal’s enclosure to comply with the city’s code within 30 days of apprehension, Orange Beach reserves the right to dispose of the animal as seen fit by the animal control officer.

Irondale, Ala. has similar regulations, although, Irondale’s legislation is specific to pit bulls.

This legislation, which has the potential to be adopted in Mobile, includes registering pit bulls or any mix that includes pit bull. Those who were both residents and pit bull owners in Irondale before this legislation was drafted in 1997 enjoy a grandfather clause that asked them to register their dog and abide by specific regulations. Those who moved to Irondale after the legislation was passed aren’t allowed to own pit bulls at all.

The legislation says registered dogs must be muzzled and kept on a 4-foot leash controlled by the owner when in public. At home, the dog’s kennel must be embedded into the ground at least two feet. When indoors, a screen or glass enclosure is not deemed sufficient for containing the animal.

In addition to the already strict legislation, owners of pit bulls must show proof of $50,000 worth of liability insurance, which includes death, bodily injury or property damage that may come as a result of the dog’s actions.

The city also requires pet owners have identification photographs accompanying the animal’s registration and must report any new developments that occur with the pit bull, such as birth or death. If the dog gives birth, puppies must be removed from the city within six weeks of birth. Failure to comply can result in imprisonment up to 30 days and fines ranging from $200 to $500.

Capt. David Harris of the Irondale Police Department said thanks to BSL, pit bull related problems have decreased significantly.

Harris says they will get two to three calls a month reporting pit bull sightings. The pit’s owner is then mailed a copy of the ordinance, which gives them two weeks to find another home for the dog, or the city will dispose of the dog. As of January 2008, Irondale employs a part-time animal enforcement officer who patrols neighborhoods looking for loose dogs and pits.

While cities like Irondale and dog attack victims like Brown see BSL as fitting for notoriously dangerous dogs, others, like pit bull owner and breeder J.P. Wimmer, disagree. The owner of Bama Blue Kennels, Wimmer feels animal owners are the ones responsible for an animal’s behavior. Wimmer explains that when a dog of any breed attacks a person or an animal, it is the result of a genetic malfunction in the owner, not the dog. Having worked with pit bulls on a close level, Wimmer guarantees pit bulls are not inherently inclined to attack.

BSL isn’t the solution for Mobile; accountability for pet owners is what this city needs, claims Wimmer, who also proposed that owners who have more than six dogs should be required to have a kennel license.

Wimmer’s own dogs are kept in kennels along with cameras and privacy fencing.

While it hasn’t been statistically confirmed, Wimmer says Dalmatians bit more people last year than pit bulls.

Wimmer calls targeting pit bulls specifically “dog racism.”

“If these dogs were humans, and it was 1943, they’d be Jews,” Wimmer said .

The owner/breeder is also convinced pit bulls are persecuted because of their popularity, and predicts Shar-Peis, Chinese fighting dogs characterized by exceptionally wrinkly bodies, will be the next vicious dog deemed problematic.

While Wimmer’s argument may appear biased, it seems other reputable sources agree with his opinion that BSL isn’t the best solution for the dog-violence issue.

The Humane Society Web site points out BSL generally doesn’t solve any problems and dog attacks are generally a reflection of individual dog owners. These claims are supported with data supplied by scientific researchers who study genetic and aggressive tendencies in dogs.

Research explains that all animals have natural tendencies towards aggression and it can be manipulated according to the animal’s upbringing.

Copeland guarantees any legislation that may come as a result of the investigations currently underway and the rest of the process will be a very public process involving the Public Safety Committee, pit bull owners and all concerned citizens.

For those who may not be able to present their cases personally, Brown set up an e-mail, pitbulltruth@yahoo.com, to serve as an open forum on pit bull related issues.

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