Leader Blues

Monday, May 21, 2007

TOP STORY >>City takes bite out of pit bulls

IN SHORT: Jacksonville ordinance will allow current owners to keep dogs if they comply with rules, but others must stay out.

Leader staff writer

After an hour of raucous debate that included police to help quell the exchange of heated words and to escort at least three people out of the council meeting, Jacksonville aldermen voted unanimously to ban pit bulls from the city.

Pit bulls, according to a local vet, are the number one breed in Jacksonville.

No emergency clause was passed, so the new ordinance won’t take effect for 30 days.

Jacksonville’s actions follow Lonoke, which banned the breed last week.

Alderman Bob Stroud, who sponsored the ban, told the standing-room-only crowd, “Personally, I’d rather there not be another pit bull on this earth than to have a child maimed, hurt or attacked.”

Stroud did emphasize to the crowd, many of whom are pit bull owners, that “we are not going to come and take your dog. This ordinance has a grandfather clause.”

The ordinance bans all pit bulls, most bulldogs or any mixed breed that is predominantly pit bull. The bull terrier breed was dropped from the ban and will still be allowed.

According to the ordinance, the only time a pit bull or bull dog may be brought into the city after the ordinance goes into effect is for veterinary care, special-event dog shows sanctioned by the city or for use by law- enforcement or military personnel as part of their duties.

Banned dogs already in the city will be allowed to stay if the owner can show proof that the animal was licensed before the new ordinance going into effect, has proof of rabies vaccination and the owner is at least 21—and then has the dog spayed or neutered, registered and has a licensed veterinarian implant a computer chip into the animal for identification and to help track them.

Alderman Terry Sansing voiced concern over banning the breed. “I do not believe you can paint the entire breed as a problem. Before pit bulls topped the list of concerns, it was the chow and before that the Doberman pinscher. If we need to do something, let’s penalize the bad owners,” Sansing said.

“Dogs are personal property, and the property owner is the one responsible,” he added.
Stroud reiterated that he was “not worried about the breed, only worried about people.”

Dr. Lee Misak, a local veterinarian, said he had a number of problems with the proposed ban.

“First off, what defines a mixed pit bull? Any large breed dog that doesn’t look like a collie could fit the definition. And who determines if the dog is a pit bull mix?” he asked.

Misak said that, in general, he was against the banning off any specific breed of dog “as are a number of national organizations, including the Humane Society.”

The vet said that 90 percent of the pit bulls he sees are friendly and the owners are responsible. “This breed,” he said, “seems to be divided into two factions—excellent dogs and fighters.”

He said that because it is the most popular breed in the city, it was only natural that it would be involved in the most bites. “We are punishing the responsible owner here. There will always be some bad dogs out there, no matter the breed.”

Those in the audience against the ban, which was the clear majority, had a chance to speak before the aldermen voted on the ban.

Lynn Tanner — who threatened to break an alderman’s neck if he wrote down his address and told the mayor that he and the council were never properly elected — said the council was threatening him because he took the responsibility to love a pit bull. Tanner interrupted numerous aldermen and disputed the meeting to a point where police nearly handcuffed him.

“This man alone makes me want to vote to ban this dog,” Aldermen Reedie Ray said.

Resident Amanda Erickson said that there needed to be an exception for the responsible owners of the dogs. Another resident said she had been around pit bulls all her life and never had a problem. “You mean to tell me that I can shoot a person who breaks into my house, but my dog can’t bite them?” she asked.

Dawn House, who owns a pit bull, a German shepherd and a Rottweiler, said she had problems with the ban “when every other dog has the ability to hurt or maim.”

“I rather leave my daughter with pit bulls than some of the poodles I’ve seen,” she said.

Stroud asked a number of residents who had been attacked or had someone in their family attacked by pit bulls to speak.
Tim Hamby told about the pit bull that attacked his 12-year-old son three years ago.

“It was the neighbor’s dog. My son had played with dog before. On this Saturday morning my son was in the street playing football with the neighbor kids when this pit jumped over two fences and attacked him. The dog pounced and knocked my son down three different times. He needed 33 stitches. It scares me to think what if that was my 5-year-old daughter out there,” Hamby said.

“My question is why are we arguing over a dog? My kids are more important than an animal,” he said.

Jerry Bryant said his next-door neighbor moved out because of a pit bull in the neighborhood and the people who moved into that house brought with them a pit bull and two other large dogs.

“I have a privacy fence between that yard and mine. Every time I go out into the backyard those dogs rush the fence. They have tried to burrow under. Quite frankly, it scares me. I’ve lived here peacefully and securely for 35 years, and now I’m scared,” he said.

Myra Clary told the council about a time six years ago that a pit bull got into her yard and killed her little dog in just four minutes.

Three months ago another pit bull showed up and tried to attack her new dogs, and just recently she helped a woman in the neighborhood who was attacked by that same pit bull.

“My dogs were barking like crazy and when I looked outside a woman was pinned down by a pit bull and the dog had the woman’s little dog in her mouth,” she explained.

Clary quickly went out and helped the woman.

Patti Jones, from the North Little Rock animal control department, told aldermen and those in the chambers that if the ban were not passed things would just get worse. “As other cities ban the dog, they will come here and into the county,” she said.
Jones said there was currently a 13-year-old boy in the hospital recovering from wounds he received in a pit bull attack in the county.

She said that when North Little Rock banned the breed two years ago the ordinance had a grandfather clause in it too. “At the time we had about 4,000 pit bulls in the city, only 211 were registered after the ban went into effect. “Those other dogs had to go somewhere,” she said.

Before relenting and voting for the ban, Sansing had two concerns. The first was for military people who transferred to Little Rock Air Force Base. “Do they have to get base housing or lose their pets?”

“Yes,” Mayor Tommy Swaim said. “Once the ordinance takes effect no pit bulls will be allowed to move into the city.”

Sansing also felt the ordinance discriminated against the responsible owners. “We are asking them to micro-chip their dog and have the pet spayed or neutered. It’s not fair that they should have those out-of-pocket expenses,” he said.

Alderman Gary Fletcher asked the council to table the ordinance until the next meeting.

“It’s clear that a lot of people want to speak and we should give them time to call and talk to us,” he said.
He made a motion to delay the vote, but no one seconded the motion, so his request failed.

Fletcher suggested the delay even though he said he was “turned off by the rudeness displayed by many people in the audience. As an alderman I have taken an oath to look after the safety, health and welfare of the people of Jacksonville,” he said.

On the final vote, all aldermen voted for the ban.