Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Rallies across state to protest pit bull ban

Dog supporters flood legislators with e-mails about Senate Bill 79

Pit bull terriers are known as a strong, courageous and loyal breed of dogs, but Hawaii politicians are finding out the dogs are nothing compared to their owners.

At the request of a constituent, Senate President Colleen Hanabusa introduced Senate Bill 79, which if passed into law would make it a misdemeanor for anyone to own or sell a American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier or a Staffordshire bull terrier.

While Hanabusa doesn't like the legislation, she introduced it because a constituent asked for it to be discussed.

Within days, pit bull owners were meeting on all islands to protest.

On Sunday, more than 1,000 pit bull owners and other dog supporters are planning a rally at Magic Island. Last weekend, a rally of about 75 was held in Hilo, and similar events are planned for Maui and Molokai, according to organizers.

There is no formal organization, but breeders and those who enjoy the breed say the legislation is discriminatory.

"I teach my children not to judge people by how they look, and the government would take away your dog because of how it looks," said Stacie Mahoe, mother of five and owner of nine pit bulls. "How do I explain that to my children?

"We would be losing members of our family," said Mahoe, who is also a softball coach at Kapolei High School. "The dogs are part of my family."

Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua) agrees, saying "the position is well taken," adding: "I think they have very legitimate arguments. They say the legislation should not be breed-specific."

Pit bulls have caused two deaths in Hawaii and last month, there were three reports of pit bulls biting people.

Monty Garcia, a breeder who is helping to organize the rallies, says the breed is both popular and misunderstood.

"People love them because they are loyal and dedicated. ... We put on an annual show to show the dog's good side," Garcia said.

Legislators say they have been flooded with e-mails, getting an average of 150 each.

"It is going to be an issue," said Sen. Fred Hemmings (R, Waimanalo-Lanikai). "In the last generation, dogs have become part of the family and taking away part of your family would be a serious intervention."

Sen. Will Espero (D, Ewa-Honouliuli-Ewa Beach) said he doubted it was much of an issue, but added, "For those who love pit bulls, it is a big issue."

Hanabusa said the e-mails coming to her office show that "people are learning the legislative process."

"For an issue as volatile as this, the e-mails have been very respectful," she said. "And there is no legislation that gets people excited as about their dogs."

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