DOG OWNERS JOIN FORCES AGAINST BALTIMORE BREED BAN
By: Pamela Loeb Date: 01/8/2012 Category: | Animal Legislation | Canine Issues |
On Wednesday, March 14, a public hearing was held in Baltimore, Maryland, regarding a potential ban on pit bulls. In recent years, there have been several very well-publicized, very severe bite cases in that city. The city council was determined to “do something” to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future. The kneejerk reaction, as always, was that these types of dogs must be banned.
By way of history, neighboring Prince George’s county enacted such a ban in February of 1997, and Washington, DC, our neighboring city to the south, has proposed such a ban on more than one occasion. Prince George’s county is (as of this writing) considering dropping its ban, and Washington, DC, had a bill die in committee last year.
At the very same time, the state of Maryland was also considering instituting a statewide breed ban, with hearings scheduled on Friday, March 16.
With all of this buzz about breed specific legislation, the local dog fancy was jumping into action. Word of the proposals spread across the internet like wildfire. It was all I could do to keep up with my email regarding this threat. Letters had to be written to legislators. Calls had to be made.
Those of us who had been involved in these fights for years realized we must be organized. So more calls were made and emails written. Trainers and owners were solicited for testimony at the hearing.
Finally, the big night arrived. The hearings were scheduled for 5 p.m., an odd time but likely intended to keep some people home. If so, it didn’t work. Folks arrived from Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, and Washington DC. We had pet owners, vets, trainers — the American Dog Owner’s Association was represented, the DC Dog Coalition was there, a veterinarian from the state veterinary association spoke.....
The legislators opened the hearings, and after they spoke we heard the mother of a bite victim speak. This is always very emotional testimony, and all of us certainly sympathize with the family. If I honestly thought that banning a breed would prevent someone else from experiencing such a horrible event, I would stand behind it in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, any dog can bite, and every breed would ultimately be added to such a list.
One of the first opponents of the bills was Janet Boss. She is a dog trainer, member of the board of directors of the Baltimore SPCA, and chair of Baltimore’s Bite Commission. She did a fabulous job of refuting many of the myths about American Pit Bull Terriers, as well as bringing forth the need for more education programs and the importance of responsibility by owners. She received several rounds of applause!
Victor Chudowsky of the DC Dog Coalition reminded the city that the efforts in DC have been using Baltimore’s dangerous dog code as a model for their new proposal. And that the ban in Prince George’s County has been an abject failure and certainly nothing to emulate.
Dog trainer Bob Maida reiterated the need for responsibility by owners, and made several wonderful analogies comparing breed bans to the Judenlaws of the Holocaust requiring Jews to wear yellow stars and the Jim Crow laws of segregation.
Adrianne Lefkowitz, regional director from the ADOA, reminded the council that they were in the unique position of having a five year window into their own future by looking at the failure of the Prince George’s County ban. There is simply no evidence to indicate that the ban has reduced incidents, and many innocent family pets have been euthanized because of their breed.
A woman spoke of her previous service dog, a Rottweiler, and her current service dog-in-training, an American Staffordshire Terrier. She explained how such laws would affect her use of a service dog and her access.
I have been a member of the Prince George’s County Commission for Animal Control for three years and have been involved in the fight against breed specific legislation for about eight years. I’ve testified at many hearings and written many letters to jurisdictions far away. I decided to bag my written testimony and wing it. I had spent the first part of my day at commission hearings, and had heard a case involving a woman who was cited under our breed specific law. She had been told by our animal control officers that six pups out of a litter of eight had “the primary characteristics of a pit bull” and were thus illegal in the county, but the other two pups in the litter could stay.
I used this very case to illustrate why such a law is unenforceable. I suggested a corps of dedicated volunteers to assist in education programs in the schools as I do in my county. I reminded them that the drug problem they continued to reference as a root of the dog problem was, perhaps, the real bottom line. The last time I checked, drugs are illegal in Baltimore, and if they could figure out how to solve that, maybe the dog problem would disappear.
In all, about 100 people signed up to testify, many of them Baltimore city residents.
There were several people who testified in favor of such a ban, including representatives from homeowners’ associations and elderly individuals who felt afraid to walk down their streets. In legislative hearings, home owners’ associations carry much weight, as they represent an entire block of voters. I sympathize with those people, but know this is not the answer. While these people provide very emotional testimony, and we cannot possibly counter with stronger positive emotions, it certainly did seem that there were many logical ideas being offered toward a solution.
Today, I feel very proud to be a dog owner in Maryland. We banded together, spread the word, and managed to provide a very strong, cohesive front against a threat to all dog owners. I felt a weight lift from my shoulders today when I heard the hearings in Annapolis (at the state level) were cancelled. I also heard a rumor that the Baltimore issue may be tabled.
Our next step certainly appears to be the need for a statewide lobbying group, or perhaps a group that could participate in the formulation of a statewide pre-emptive law (like NY passed several years ago). Several of us have considered this idea, and I think we have bought ourselves the time needed to organize. I look forward to the creation of a coalition of people who can help the legislators write and pass enforceable, practical laws regarding canine issues.
Apparently, we won this round. With any luck, these bills actually will be tabled, and won’t be re-introduced at a later date. However, I don’t let my guard down for long. Dog ownership in the US is constantly under siege. I will enjoy a nice meal for our victory tonight, but I will be prepared for many more long nights ahead.
Pit bull owners faced another challenge before the bill was finally defeated. After deciding against the proposed ban, City Council reversed itself on May 6 and decided to go forward even though several council members expressed doubts about enforceability and cost. According to the Baltimore Sun, 6th District councilman Rev. Norman A. Handy Sr. cast the deciding 10th vote for the measure and said: “It’s a bill that sends a message even though we don’t think as a body that this will succeed.”
The Sun article noted that the Baltimore Health Commissioner has serious doubts about enforceability; that Prince George’s County found its ban to be ineffective; and that the cost to enforce a Baltimore ban would be about $750,000, an amount that the city is unlikely to be able to afford in times of “bleak budget outlook.”
Pit bull owners responded with a rally and generated additional correspondence against the ban, and council voted it down, 10-8, on May 14.
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All Authors Of This Article: | Pamela Loeb |