The view from Glenn Brooks' dining room window isn't always pretty.
From his ground-floor apartment on Tamar Drive in Long Reach, Brooks uses a hand-held video camera to record the neighborhood's ills: One moment, groups of young men in hooded sweat shirts loitering by a mailbox. A few seconds later, the most irksome view to Brooks and some of his neighbors -- one of those young men walking two pit bulls.
"It doesn't take an Einstein to figure it out," said Brooks, chairman of a committee of village residents formed to ban the dogs. "It's a drug thing."
Most often viewed as an urban problem, pit bulls are raising an alarm in some suburban communities, and not just because drug dealers might use them for intimidation. Critics are calling for measures ranging from tighter regulation to outright bans on ownership -- which can be difficult to enforce.
American pit bull terriers, cherished household pets for some, are feared by those who say their muscular builds and vise-like jaws are a menace.
In September, a roaming pit bull attacked a 6-year-old beagle along a Long Reach bike path. In July, county animal control officials put down a pit bull owned by a North Laurel couple after complaints that the dog had been terrorizing the neighborhood and had seriously injured a neighbor's dog. Prince George's County has banned pit bulls.
During a public meeting in Long Reach in October, many residents complained that pit bulls are sometimes chained to picnic tables outside of Jack's restaurant in the village center, or run loose on a grassy area outside the Exxon gas station.
The pit bull that attacked Pamela Quintern's beagle, Rufus, was running loose about 8: 30 p.m. Sept. 24 in Long Reach. Quintern's son was walking Rufus.
It wasn't until neighbors heard her son's screams and beat the pit bull with a golf club and baseball bat that it stopped attacking Rufus and bit one of the neighbors. After a nine-hour operation and follow-up surgery, Rufus seems fine, but his owners are still shook up. The pit bull's owner agreed to have the dog put to sleep.
In Howard County, 136 pit bulls are licensed. The largest numbers are in Columbia, 57, and North Laurel, 20. In the Long Reach ZIP code, 25 are registered.
Though there is a leash law in the county, there is no law prohibiting pit bull ownership -- only a law that defines a dangerous dog and gives the county Animal Matters Board the authority to put down such a dog.
Two years ago, pit bulls were banned in Prince George's County, and officials in Washington are considering a similar law.
Brooks said he is looking at the Prince George's law as a model for one in Howard. George Whiting, chief of animal control in Prince George's, said the dogs are forbidden in that county unless owners can prove they bought them before February 1997, when the law went into effect. Violators face a fine of $1,000 or 90 days in jail.
But though the law seems to have decreased the number of pit bull bites, it is not easy to enforce. Police officers have to track down the dogs and prove that the owner brought the dog into the county illegally.
The connection between drug dealers and the dogs raises another issue. "Drug dealers use them for intimidation," said Lt. Rick Tabor of the Anne Arundel County Police Department. "It's just like walking down the street with a loaded handgun."
Dr. Leslie Sinclair, director of veterinary issues at the Humane Society of the United States in Washington, is not surprised the Prince George's law has not solved all the problems.
"Banning pit bulls traditionally doesn't work," she said. "We find that in many dangerous dog incidents, there was a law, but it wasn't enforced."
Sinclair says a well-written law is a better remedy. She blames irresponsible owners who encourage viciousness by mistreating their pit bulls and training them to fight.
"Poorly cared-for dogs are a threat to the community," she said, noting that the Humane Society is researching the pros and cons of greater restrictions on ownership of pit bulls, such as requiring registration, keeping them confined, having them neutered and making sure that owners have insurance.
Responsible owners, says Norma Bennett Woolf, a pit bull advocate in Cincinnati who works to educate public officials about the breed, confine their dogs so they cannot escape, socialize them as puppies and teach them manners.
Cathay McRae, a Harper's Choice resident who adopted her pit bull, Diamond, from a shelter four months ago, describes the animal as "loving and high-spirited." And though she would not let Diamond play with young children, the dog gets along well with her tabby cat.
"These dogs are not naturally mean," she said. "They can become mean, like any other animal, when they are mistreated."
The problem, McRae and Woolf say, lies with irresponsible owners.
"The answer to dog control problems in a community is not to target breeds any more than the answer to other crimes is to target an ethnic group," Woolf said. "The burden should be placed on the owners who fail to protect their neighbors, not on the breed or mix of dogs."