City Council rejects ban on breeds of attack dog

No way to enforce law on pit bulls, some say

May 15, 2001|By Allison Klein and M. Dion Thompson | Allison Klein and M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

Just a week after giving preliminary approval to a ban on pit bulls, the Baltimore City Council narrowly rejected the measure last night.

Several council members echoed the views of the city's health commissioner, saying a ban would be ineffective because the city does not have the resources to enforce one.

Council President Sheila Dixon and Vice President Stephanie Rawlings Blake, a Northwest Baltimore Democrat, switched their votes, making the result 10-8 against a ban.

Councilwoman Lois A. Garey, a Southeast Baltimore Democrat who joined the 11-8 majority for a ban last week, was absent last night.

After the vote was announced, about a half-dozen opponents of the ban stood up in the balcony, thrust their arms in the air and cheered.

But the decision angered others, who said the dogs are a threat to society.

"They just don't get that they're dangerous animals. What more do they have to do to prove it?" said Kelly Eyring, the mother of a girl who was attacked by a pit bull in January. "It all comes down to money probably, which is sad. I thought our children's lives mattered more than that."

The bill would have banned Staffordshire bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, American pit bull terriers and American bulldogs, and any other dog trained to attack. Violators would have faced a fine of up to $1,000 and 12 months in jail.

"Prohibiting pit bulls is not going to the root of the problem," Dixon said when asked to explain why she changed her mind. "We have not provided the resources to our Health Department to deal with this issue. It is my responsibility not to pass a law on emotion."

The bill was sponsored by Councilwoman Agnes B. Welch, a West Baltimore Democrat, who said she was "afraid" not to vote for the ban.

"There is a cost with any bill. What's the cost of a life of a child?" Welch said before the vote. "This will keep our children and citizens safe."

But several members said similar bills in cities across the country did not rid those areas of problems with pit bulls.

Nationwide, an estimated two dozen cities and counties have banned pit bulls and other attack dogs. Several cities have repealed bans such as the one that failed last night, while other jurisdictions, such as Prince George's County, are considering lifting their restrictions.

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.

Baltimore's Bureau of Animal Control, part of the Health Department, would not have the money to enforce a ban, Health Commissioner Peter L. Beilenson had warned. By one estimate, the annual cost of additional staff, shelter space, carcass disposal and transportation would be $750,000.

With the city in the throes of financial problems, Animal Control's budget of $1.8 million was not likely to grow, Beilenson said.

Officials also said they would have trouble identifying pit bull mixed breeds, which the ban also would have covered.

Officials estimate there are 5,000 to 6,000 pit bulls in Baltimore.

On Friday, about 35 people opposed to the ban protested outside City Hall, some accompanied by their pit bulls. They carried signs reading, "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. A pit bull escaped from its owner's back yard and latched onto Kasey's face.

There have since been several publicized pit bull attacks in the Baltimore area. The most recent was Wednesday in Brooklyn Heights, south of the Baltimore line in Anne Arundel County, where a 2-year-old girl was nearly killed when her family's pit bull bit her neck.

According to the Health Department, about 1,000 bites a year are reported to the city, about 30 percent by pit bulls.

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 involved pit bulls, and eight of those were found to be vicious and were euthanized.

According to a study cited by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on its Web site, pit bulls accounted for 66 of 238 dog-bite-related deaths from 1979 to 1998, 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.

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