More than 100 people crammed into a City Hall hearing room last night to debate four different proposals to regulate - and possibly ban - pit bulls in Baltimore.
Most of those attending the lengthy and sometimes raucous hearing of the City Council's Housing, Health and Environment Committee were animal advocates opposed to any legislation that specifically targets pit bulls.
The most poignant testimony came from Kelly Eyring, whose 7-year-old daughter, Kasey, was mauled by a pit bull Jan. 12 while playing with her two sisters outside their grandmother's Southwest Baltimore house.
The dog escaped through a hole in the owner's backyard fence and latched onto Kasey's face, dragging her back and forth across the street as family and neighbors frantically kicked the dog and beat it with sticks and rocks.
"This dog did not let go," Eyring said last night. "I watched my daughter's face get ripped off. ... This dog wanted to kill her."
Neither police nor the dog's owner, Norman Jenkins, were able to free the 7-year-old. The dog finally loosened its bite when Kasey's father repeatedly stabbed it. The girl underwent five hours of surgery to her face that night.
The attack prompted Councilwoman Agnes Welch, a West Baltimore Democrat, to introduce two bills. One would prohibit ownership of pit bulls or other dogs "trained to attack." Violators would face a fine of up to $1,000 and 12 months in jail.
The second, less-restrictive proposal would require a license to own a pit bull and require owners to have liability insurance of at least $25,000.
A third bill, introduced at the request of the city's health commissioner, Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, calls for strict licensing of pit bulls and would require owners to have microchips implanted in their dogs' skin containing information on whether a dog had been spayed or neutered.
"We think it's a good compromise," Beilenson said before testifying last night. "It doesn't ban any animals, but it encourages responsible ownership."
A fourth bill, which is supported by animal rights advocates, proposes increased funding to enforce Baltimore's laws against vicious dogs.
Beilenson said his department's 17 animal control officers are overburdened and that "there's absolutely no way we can increase our funding for animal control." He said his microchip proposal requires no new money.
The Housing, Health and Environment Committee will consider the legislation later.
Officials estimate that there are 5,000 pit bulls in the city.
City Council President Sheila Dixon said last night that a pit bull ban would probably be difficult to enforce and ineffective.
Prince George's County is finding that its 1997 ban on pit bulls, which led to the euthanization of 2,400 dogs, is largely a failure. A task force has recommended to County Executive Wayne K. Curry that the law be repealed.
Del. Charles R. Boutin, a Harford County Republican, has proposed a statewide ban on pit bills. A hearing in Annapolis on that bill is scheduled for tomorrow.
Animal groups oppose any ban on a specific breed.
"There's no evidence that it works," said Aileen Gabbey, executive director of the Maryland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, who also testified last night. "Because the issue is really dog bites, not pit bulls."
Gabbey said the city should enforce the laws it has - such as requiring that dogs be leashed or fenced-in - rather than add new ones.