Banning pit bulls often fails to do job

Other breeds known to pose safety risks

programs are costly

May 12, 2001|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Local officials across the country are considering banning pit bulls and other attack dogs - a step Baltimore may take - despite evidence that the bans sometimes prove costly and ineffective.

Those jurisdictions that forbid certain breeds of dogs reacted to public outcries after one or more brutal maulings, often of a child. But communities sometimes later find the laws are not what they expected.

Several cities, including Cincinnati, have repealed bans such as the one proposed by the Baltimore City Council, while other jurisdictions, such as Prince George's County, are considering lifting their restrictions.

The latest local attack came yesterday afternoon, when two children were bitten by a pit bull in the 1800 block of North Chapel St. in East Baltimore, according to police. The children were said to be in good condition.

On Wednesday in Brooklyn Heights, just south of the Baltimore line in Anne Arundel County, a 2-year-old girl was nearly killed by the family pit bull, which attacked her neck.

That came two days after the Anne Arundel County Council proposed legislation to control "dangerous animals." The county is not considering banning only pit bulls, partly because it would not prevent people from owning other potentially vicious animals.

In Cincinnati, officials repealed a 13-year ban on pit bulls last year because the city was spending $200,000 a year to confiscate and euthanize less than 20 percent of the city's pit bulls, most of which had never bitten anyone, said Carol Walker, Cincinnati's senior administration safety specialist.

"It's an enormous headache and expense and requires enormous expertise and didn't solve the problem of pit bulls in our community," Walker said. "There's no way you're going to get rid of all of them. To spend that kind of money and manpower, why not take that same money and put it into dog control and responsible dog ownership?"

Baltimore's Health Department, whose Bureau of Animal Control would enforce the law, does not have the money or resources to properly enforce the proposed ban, said Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, city health commissioner.

"We oppose this," Beilenson said. "We don't have the staff. If we pick up an animal, proving it is a pit bull is difficult."

The problem is in identifying pit bull mixed breeds, which also would be banned.

But Baltimore's pit bull problem is seen by some as so severe that earlier this week the City Council preliminarily approved a ban, despite one supporter's comment that it "sends a message, even though it may not be enforceable."

Last night, about 35 people opposed to a ban protested outside City Hall, some accompanied by their pit bulls. They carried signs saying, "No breed profiling," and "I'm a dog owner, and I vote."

The issue came to the forefront after the mauling Jan. 12 of 7-year-old Kasey Eyring in Southwest Baltimore, when a pit bull escaped its owner's back yard and latched onto Kasey's face.

About 1,000 bites a year are reported to the city, some 30 percent by pit bulls, according to the health department.

The city's Vicious Dog Hearing Board, created in 1998 as a tool for the city to crack down on dangerous dogs, has heard 31 cases since January. Thirteen of the cases involved pit bulls, and eight of those were found to be vicious and were euthanized.

The council bill would ban pit bulls - which includes Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers and American Bulldogs - and any other dog trained to attack.

Violating owners would face a fine of up to $1,000 and 12 months in jail, though council members are discussing amending the bill to exempt current owners. A spokesman for Mayor Martin O'Malley said he would wait for a final vote before announcing whether he'd sign the measure.

According to a study cited by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of 238 dog-bite-related deaths from 1979 to 1998, pit bulls accounted for 66, more than any other breed. But from 1994 to 1998, Rottweilers killed 30 people, compared with the 25 people pit bulls killed during the same period.

That is evidence that banning a specific breed is flawed, said Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States.

"If someone wants an attack dog, they'll train a Rottweiler if they can't train a pit bull, or a Mastiff if they can't train a Rottweiler," Pacelle said.

Some 25 jurisdictions, including Denver, Colo. and Miami-Dade County, Fla., ban one or more breeds, according to the American Dog Owners Association. The banned breeds include pit bulls, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers and Chow Chows.

Nine other cities and counties have repealed such restrictions, according to Victor Chudowsky, founder of the DC Dog Coalition, a pit bull lobbying organization that opposes breed-specific bans.

The restrictions seem to work best in small communities where few pit bulls live because it is difficult for owners to hide them, Chudowsky said.

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