Bill on pit bulls attacked

Gardina says he'll move ahead, despite likely failure

October 10, 2007|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,SUN REPORTER

A Baltimore County Council member said yesterday that his effort to require pit bull owners to muzzle their dogs in public and cage them at home was likely to fail, as dozens of people urged council members to defeat the proposal.

But Councilman Vincent J. Gardina said he planned to move forward with the bill.

Gardina said that even though he appears to lack the council votes needed to pass the bill, he wants to make the point that more needs to be done to prevent attacks.

His bill, prompted by the mauling in April of a 10-year-old Towson boy, would require pit bull owners to equip their homes with concrete-based cages, muzzle their dogs in public and buy insurance to cover expenses after attacks. Violators would face a fine of up to $1,000.

The bill is scheduled to come up for a vote Monday.

"It's not cruel. It's not unusual," Gardina, a Towson-Perry Hall Democrat, said of the proposal to muzzle the dogs and keep the animals in kennels. "It would prevent the type of incidents we've seen here in Baltimore County. The purpose of the bill is for public protection."

Gardina said that he was open to removing the requirements that the dogs be muzzled in public and that owners buy insurance.

Several council members questioned the bill yesterday, saying weak enforcement of existing laws, such as leash laws and regulations covering animals with violent histories, was likely more responsible for dog attacks than any particular breed.

Dozens of people crowded the work session, many holding signs and wearing shirts with pictures of pit bulls. One woman held a sign that read, "I Own a Pit Bull and I Vote." Another sign, using the acronym for breed-specific laws, read, "BSL Punishes the Innocent."

Of the 34 people who signed up to testify before the council, 30 indicated that they were against the bill. A dog trainer said that requiring dogs to be kept in kennels could agitate them, leading to "cage rage."

Kathy Homan, who wore a shirt emblazoned with "Hug a Pit Bull," said breed-specific legislation "is racial profiling for dogs."

"The dog's owner should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis," she added.

One man asked how pit bulls would be able to participate in dog shows in the county if they were required to be muzzled in public.

Other owners said the bill would unfairly burden dog owners who obey existing leash laws and train their dogs to behave.

"A law that judges guilt before the act really has no place in America," said Bill Campbell.

Gardina said he introduced the bill after hearing the story of 10-year-old Dominic Solesky, who said he was attacked by a pit bull in April while playing tag with friends behind his family's Towson rowhouse. Dominic, who was repeatedly bitten on the leg and cheek, underwent two operations and spent more than two weeks in the hospital, his parents said.

The boy's parents voiced support yesterday for Gardina's bill. His mother, Irene Solesky, said she was sorry to hear that the dog that attacked her son was euthanized but that more needed to be done to prevent dog attacks.

She said restrictions proposed in Gardina's bill should be considered protective measures rather than punishment.

The focus should not be that not all dogs attack, she said, but that if they do "it's almost always debilitating, catastrophic, and sometimes fatal."

A spokesman for County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said the administration has taken no position on the bill but that officials are considering hiring more animal-control officers and providing more money to the Health Department to strengthen enforcement of existing animal-control laws.

josh.mitchell@baltsun.com

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