Leader Blues

Monday, January 07, 2008

TOP STORY >> Cities remain behind bans

By JOAN McCOY
Leader staff writer

A federal lawsuit filed last week against the ban on pit bulls in four central Arkansas cities will apparently not change the stance those cities have taken against the dogs that many perceive as dangerous.

“We will continue to enforce our ordinance until a federal court tells us different,” Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim said Friday.

Named in the suit are Jacksonville, Lonoke and Beebe, which passed ordinances in 2007, and North Little Rock, which passed ordinances in 2004. Cabot, which also decided to closely regulate its pit bull population in 2007, is not. The plaintiffs, who live in the cities named in the suit, claim the cities violated their rights against seizure without due process as outlined in the Fifth and 14th amendments to the Constitution.

Technically, only Lonoke banned the dogs. The ordinance passed there in April did not grandfather any of the dogs. All had to go and so far, said Mayor Wayne McGee, most have. McGee said before the ban, the city became home to several pit bulls whose owners lived elsewhere.

“We would find them tied up behind abandoned houses. We would find them in yards tied to trees or tied with big log chains,” he said. “They were fighting them quite a lot here.

“There were so many that came in here on us because everyone else was passing ordinances,” he said.

McGee said that after the ordinance was passed, pit bull owners, for the most part, sent their dogs to live elsewhere. “We haven’t taken anybody’s dog and killed it,” he said. “We haven’t even fined anyone.”
Jacksonville gave pit bull owners 60 days to register and vaccinate their dogs and have identification chips implanted. Beebe grandfathered only about 10 dogs that were already registered when the city council passed its pit bull ordinance. Those dogs had to be kept either inside or outside in a 20-by-40 foot pen. No pit bulls were allowed to stay in apartment buildings.

Like officials with the other cities named in the suit, Beebe Mayor Mike Robertson said he had not been served yet and like the others, he said the ordinance will be enforced as it was before he heard the city was being sued.

Robertson said pit bull owners in Beebe have the option of filing an appeal with his office if they want to contest the ordinance and so far no one has. Horace Taylor, Beebe animal control officer, said, two or three pit bulls have been destroyed since the ordinance was passed this summer. In most cases, the owners have relocated them after he gave them seven days to comply with the ordinance or have the dogs confiscated.

“I’ve put down a couple that were real mean,” he said. “The people couldn’t even take care of them themselves.”
Lonoke’s ordinance is based on Maumelle’s which was upheld by the Arkansas Supreme Court. Cabot’s ordinance is based on Sherwood’s.

“We’ve decided to research it and make sure it’s OK, but we think it’s a good ordinance,” Williams said. And it will continue to be enforced. The exact number of pit bulls destroyed since the ordinance passed was not available, but Williams reported to the city council recently that five were destroyed in one week.

Mayor McGee said Lonoke city officials talked about the pit bull issue more than two years before they finally acted. They thought about dealing with the dogs as problems arose but after talking to other cities, they decided an outright ban was the best and they haven’t changed their position because their decision has now been challenged in federal court.

“Unless something happens to make us change, it will be business as usual,” McGee said.