Official calls for microchip tags for dogs

City health chief wants law to control aggressive breeds

Pit bulls to be included

Implant would carry proof of sterilization, permit information

January 17, 2001|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,SUN STAFF

Baltimore would become the nation's first city to require that pit bulls and other dogs bred to be "fighting animals" have an implanted microchip indicating they have been spayed or neutered, under legislation planned by the city's health commissioner.

Dr. Peter L. Beilenson said the plan might be the best way to prevent savage dog attacks such as the one suffered by a 7-year-old girl in Southwest Baltimore Friday.

The implant would enable animal control officers to determine instantly whether the dog has been "fixed" - and if it hasn't, to seize the dog immediately. Beilenson said the measure would help control the number of dangerous dogs in the city. Neutered dogs are also less likely to become aggressive, he said.

"Banning pit bulls wouldn't work," he said. "You'd drive the problem underground, and then you'd have another problem."

Beilenson said he wants to introduce the bill in the City Council in the next several weeks and have a law in place by spring - the season when the number of dogs kept outside begins to rise.

Under current law, pet owners are not required to have their dogs spayed or neutered.

Beilenson said he will propose that owners of pit bulls and other dangerous dogs be required to obtain special permits, which would be granted only if the dogs are neutered. The veterinarian performing the procedure would implant a microchip about the size of a grain of rice under the animal's skin between the shoulder blades.

The implant would cost between $15 and $20. Owners would also pay the $10 licensing fee required of all dog owners.

After a dog is seized, its owners would have a few days to prove that the dog had the microchip but that it was defective or buried too deeply to be detected. The implant would be read by passing a wand over the dog's body.

If the owner cannot demonstrate that a chip has been implanted, the dog would be destroyed.

No other municipality in the country has required microchip implants, Beilenson said, although some dog owners have voluntarily used them to help authorities return pets that have run away. In those cases, the microchips identify the owner. Under Beilenson's plan, they would also indicate that the dog owner has a permit.

"It would require special permits of pit bulls and probably other breeds that can be significant fighting animals," Beilenson said.

He has yet to identify those breeds but said they would probably include Rottweilers - the other breed that, along with pit bulls, accounts for the largest numbers of serious dog attacks locally and nationally.

Kasey Eyring, the girl mauled on Friday, was in fair condition yesterday at University of Maryland Medical Center. After the attack, she underwent five hours of surgery to repair extensive facial injuries.

Kasey was playing in the street outside her grandparents' house in the 900 block of Brunswick St. when the dog broke through a hole in a wooden fence and latched onto her face. Frantic neighbors beat the dog with sticks and rocks before the animal released its grip.

The Bureau of Animal Control captured and destroyed the dog. The city subsequently issued 10 citations against the owner, Norman Jenkins, who lives on same block as the victim's grandparents. The charges include failure to have a dog license, failure to have the animal vaccinated against rabies and maintaining unsanitary conditions in the yard where the dog was kept.

The dog was a male and had not been neutered, Beilenson said.

The requirement to have pit bulls neutered would cut down on the proliferation of the dogs in the city, he said. Also, dogs that have been neutered are generally less violent.

"Unneutered dogs are almost three times more likely to bite than neutered dogs," said Dr. Kim Blindauer, a veterinarian with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Pit bulls and Rottweilers were responsible for more than half the 27 fatal dog attacks that occurred nationwide in 1997 and 1998, according to a study by the CDC. But the agency generally opposes legislation aimed at specific dog breeds, Blindauer said.

"We should approach the problem through ownership responsibility - spaying and neutering of all dogs, enforcing fencing and leash laws for all dogs." she said.

Dr. Kim Hammond, a veterinarian with Falls Road Animal Hospital, said Beilenson's proposal is a good start.

"Some pit bulls are so sweet, but some are the plague of the earth," he said. "It's time to make some hard decisions. It's better than doing nothing, and it will force some people to get their act together."

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