Pit bull bill stirs debate Plan draws advocates, foes to argue outside council meeting

'Like raising rattlesnakes'

Proposed law seen as one of strictest in the nation

September 15, 1998|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

More than a dozen people from Spa Cove and surrounding communities showed up at Annapolis City Hall last night to support and to oppose a city measure that would be one of the strictest pit bull laws in the nation.

The measure, introduced at the Annapolis City Council meeting last night, would require pit bull owners to be at least 25 years old, carry $500,000 in liability insurance, pay registration fees and report the birth of any puppies.

A public hearing on the bill is scheduled Oct. 5 in City Council chambers.

Although the council did not allow testimony at last night's session, opponents had a heated discussion with supporters in the City Hall lobby.

Opponents said the measure unfairly targets pit bulls and those who keep them.

"I'm not a pit bull owner, but I'm a concerned citizen about breed-specific laws," said Dr. Malina Nightingale, a veterinarian at the Anne Arundel Veterinary Emergency Clinic in Annapolis.

"I predict future problems with this law. Who's to say the owners of such vicious dogs won't move on to another breed if pit bulls are outlawed. I don't think that kind of ban will hold up constitutionally," she said.

But supporters say the measure is a necessity to protect residents.

"This wouldn't affect us, but the law would spread, we hope. It has to start somewhere," said Joe Loukota, 67, of Cape St. FTC Claire, who showed up with his wife Annette Barbera, 41, to support the measure.

"It's like raising rattlesnakes, I think. You don't turn them loose out on the street," he said.

Recent pit bull attacks in Annapolis and across the state -- as well as increasing evidence of dogfighting in Anne Arundel County -- prompted Aldermen Cynthia Carter and Ellen O. Moyer to draft legislation that would make owners more responsible for their dogs.

Residents and city officials say problems with pit bulls are increasing.

Last month in Arnold, county police arrested a group of men, confiscating drugs and several pit bulls allegedly trained for dogfighting.

In March, a pit bull -- that was in a shelter because it had bitten two people -- attacked an Anne Arundel County animal control officer, who needed surgery to re- attach part of his left thumb.

In July, a pit bull chased Annapolis apartment manager Peggy Waters-Moore and her children. The incident resulted in the decapitation of her cat and a 400-signature petition against pit bulls running loose.

The Annapolis City measure comes after other jurisdictions have enacted laws to make it easier to confiscate problem dogs. But while most jurisdictions have laws allowing abused or vicious dogs to be confiscated, the Annapolis ordinance would go a step further by restricting a specific breed.

The law would require pit bull owners to pay a $100 registration fee to the city Police Department within 48 hours of ownership and provide a photo of the animal.

Owners also would provide proof of liability insurance and the dog would have to be kept inside a building or a 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.

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

But enacting the measure may prove difficult. Animal rights groups nationwide oppose breed- specific legislation. Obtaining pit bull insurance is also nearly impossible, according to local insurance agents.

"It's blatantly unfair and it will not solve the problem. I'm going to be back to fight this," said David Mabe, 28, of Edgewater, who owns two pit bulls.

Pub Date: 9/15/98

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