Strict pit bull limits sought Annapolis proposes law to make owners carry insurance, be 25

$500,000 in liability needed

Recent attacks spur measure

'somebody has to do something'

September 11, 1998|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

Joining a trend against aggressive dogs, Annapolis officials have proposed one of the nation's strictest dog laws -- one that would make owning a pit bull more difficult than getting licensed to drive.

The city council's measure would require pit bull owners be at least 25 years old and carry $500,000 in liability insurance.

Owners would be forced to pay registration fees and report the birth of puppies.

Recent pit bull attacks in Annapolis and across the state -- as well as increasing evidence of dogfighting in Anne Arundel County -- prompted two city aldermen to draft legislation that would make owners more responsible for their dogs.

The Annapolis measure follows efforts in other localities to enact laws that make it easier to confiscate problem dogs and protect residents. Annapolis' law, if passed, would be one of the toughest because of the age and insurance requirements.

"I am a dog lover," said Alderman Cynthia Abney Carter, a Ward 6 Democrat who is co-sponsoring the bill with Ward 8 Democrat Alderman Ellen O. Moyer. "I love animals. But I think those dogs have been misused, mistreated and misunderstood.

"People are fearful of walking in certain areas because of these dogs. Some people teach them to fight and be immune to pain so that they can be mean. It makes me sick."

The measure will be introduced to the city council Monday night.

Carter said a recent pit bull attack on her mother-in-law sparked her interest. Also, she said, a pit bull chased an Annapolis apartment manager and children in July, an incident that resulted in the decapitation of the woman's cat and a 400-signature petition against pit bulls running loose.

Last month in nearby Arnold, county police arrested a group of men, confiscating drugs and several pit bulls allegedly trained for dogfighting. In March, a pit bull attacked a county animal control officer. He needed surgery to reattach part of his left thumb. The dog was in the shelter because it had bitten two

other people.

In June, a Montgomery County animal shelter worker underwent four operations to reattach his almost severed hand after being attacked by a pit bull.

"We have a terrible problem and something needs to be done," said David Branchini, executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Anne Arundel County. "I'm thankful that somebody's looking at it. It's also a real unique approach."

While most other localities have laws allowing abused or vicious dogs to be confiscated, Annapolis has gone a step further restricting a breed before an incident occurs. The law would require owners to pay a $100 registration fee to police within 48 hours of ownership and provide a photo of the animal.

Owners would also provide proof of liability insurance, and the dog have to be kept within a building or secure kennel or muzzled and securely restrained whenever the owner is not around.

Violation of the law would result in a $250 fine for the first offense and $300 for repeat offenses. The bill defines pit bulls as Staffordshire bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers and American pit bull terriers.

"We have needed something like this for quite awhile now," said Peggy Waters-Moore, the Spa Cove Apartments manager whose cat was killed in the July incident. "I've been here seven years and every year, I've watched these young men take their dogs over to the park and stand off the dock, holding onto leashes as their dogs swam desperately for shore.

"The dogs would get tired, go under and then the boys would drag them back to shore," said Waters-Moore. "It made those dogs angry. When that dog attacked my cat, he was very angry. My kids and I barely got into the patio in time."

The Annapolis proposal would stop short of banning pit bulls, which is what Prince George's County did last year.

lTC "I'm not aware of any ordinance like [Annapolis'] that is being passed," said Ann Church, senior director of government affairs for the Gaithersburg-based Humane Society of the United States. "We don't support such bans. They are troublesome because for one thing, it is difficult, if not impossible, to define what a pit bull is. We usually recommend that owners should be held responsible for what their animals do."

The American Kennel Club in Raleigh, N.C., also opposes "breed-specific" legislation, said Cindy Goodman, its associate director of canine legislation.

In fact, breed-specific laws have been challenged in several states, said E. Robert Duffy, executive director of the American Dog Owners Association in New York. In many of these cases, he said, local courts have forced governments to change or repeal a law.

The association is taking the city of Buffalo Grove, Ill., to court for its ban on pit bulls, Duffy said.

Such challenges have led 12 states, including New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia, to enact laws banning breed-specific measures.

Another obstacle that could emerge for Annapolis' efforts would be in finding an insurance company willing to underwrite pit bull policies. Dogs are usually covered by a homeowners policy, but many companies will not issue such policies to someone who has a dangerous animal, local insurance agents said.

"A $500,000 rider on their insurance policy to cover their dog? It's not out there," said Lars Kristiansen, director of legislative affairs in Maryland for Nationwide Insurance Enterprise. "I do not know of any insurers with policies for dogs."

To avoid such problems, Goodman says, the AKC recommends a process to identify specific dogs as "dangerous" based on measurable actions, imposing appropriate penalties on irresponsible owners, and establishing a well-defined method for dealing with dangerous dogs.

"I realize we'll have some opposition to this," Carter said of the proposal. "But somebody has to do something. We can't go on ignoring the problem."

Pub Date: 9/11/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.