Wednesday, February 24, 2010
The Jackson City Council Rules Committee, spurred by the recent death of 5-year-old Terry resident Anastasia Bingham from a pit-bull attack, voted Monday to ask the city's legal department to write an ordinance banning pit bulls dog inside the city limits, and to consider a second ordinance giving police officers more discretion in handling complaints against dogs.
Ward 1 Councilman Jeff Weill, Ward 2 Councilman Chokwe Lumumba and Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon asked the city's Deputy Attorney James Anderson to look into a law similar to breed-banning laws Ridgeland city leaders enacted.
Police Deputy Chief Gerald Jones, who previously presided over the city's animal-control division, said police now have limited power to deal with most animal complaints.
"Most of the calls the city has received concerning animals deals with barking dogs, not biting dogs, and that is a difficult issue to enforce because if the animal is in the owner's private property, then that's a privacy issue," Jones told members of the committee. He added that most reported incidents of biting dogs involve animals that have never left their owner's property to inflict the bites, which also presents a property-rights issue.
Jones said the clearest indicator that the police were doing their job under the city's current ordinance was the fact that city residents report few dogs walking the streets and presenting a health hazard.
"The way current city ordinances are structured, that's the surest indication that the police department is doing its job," Jones said. "There's not much more we can do."
Weill joined council members Barrett-Simon and Lumumba in pushing for a ban on pit-bull breeds. They also joined in support of requesting a new city ordinance that might allow police to more effectively tip-toe around property- and privacy-rights issues to engage complaints of incessant barking or animals exhibiting threatening behavior.
"We want to give police the tools to better protect the safety of Jackson residents," Weill said. Anderson could offer no immediate ideas on an ordinance that would give police greater power in dealing with animal complaints, but explained that other cities had successfully passed breed bans of their own.
Lumumba, while supportive of the push, expressed doubt regarding enforceability of the breed ban, and asked attorneys to look into how effectively other cities were enforcing their own bans.
Barrett-Simon said she considered the pit-bull breed to be one of the more violent and unpredictable dogs, the result perhaps of unscrupulous "back-yard breeding" by careless owners.
If attorneys return to the Rules Committee with a ban, at least three other members of the seven-member council may not support it: Councilmen Charles Tillman, Tony Yarber and Council President Frank Bluntson indicated no early support for a ban.
"I'm not for banning any dog," Bluntson said. "I'm for tightening up on rules and laws for owners to be more responsible for that dog. Remember when the bad guys were Dobermans? We got over that."
Yarber said police are incapable of stopping all-night barking, much less engaging in a mass collection of freshly banned pit bulls.
"What'll you do when you pick them up--euthanize them? We got five people on animal control. I can't see enforcing that," he said.
Yarber then questioned enforcement: "If we ban any breed, we'll have to define how much pit bull a mixed breed contains before it falls under the scope of the ban, and there's a lot of room for argument there."
Weill said he wanted city attorneys to consider a grandfather clause that might allow pit-bull owners to keep pets they have owned for more than six years and who managed to avoid any complaints of violence.
Sallyann Comstock, director of Texas-based American Temperament Test Society, which has tested dog breed behavioral characteristics since the 1970s, said pit bulls rate better in docility tests than many other breeds. Comstock added that breed-specific legislation was a violation of the civil-liberties spirit of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. She asked that council members inform themselves before casting a vote.
"The general public wouldn't be able to tell a pit bull from a boxer, much less have good knowledge on the behavior of the breed," Comstock said. "Until the general population has more knowledge about dog breeds it would be best to keep silent."
After the meeting, Jones would not offer an opinion on the effectiveness of a potential pit-bull ban, saying his job would only be to enforce the ban should the council approve one. He did say, however, that the brunt of dog bites reported in the city (a total of nine since December, including bites to other dogs) came from Chow Chows and Chow-mix breeds. Unlucky owners reported most of those attacks after being bitten, Jones added.
Breed-specific bans only address the symptom, not the cause of the problem. The problem is irresponsible owners, not specific breeds. The latest pit bull case involved a dog that had scars consistent with having been used as a "bait dog" in dog fighting. What are the city's current laws regarding dog fighting? This should definitely be a felony, and strongly enforced, as most dog fighting is also closely linked to drug-dealing and other crimes. However, the city has just recently considered the first law that would make any type of animal abuse a felony. Also, as the above article states, the police have little or no powers of animal control. Coming from the West coast, I just don't understand why there is no ASPCA or Humane Society here, and why the animal cruelty laws are so feeble. It does look to me like the city is proposing a law that will serve no purpose other than presenting the appearance of having done something. It will also mostly penalize people whose dogs have no aggression problems, and do nothing to address the problems of dog fighting and other types of abuse.
Breed specific laws r needed because they r a fighting breed...name says it all. Over the years they were the best breed 4 cruel pastimes of ignorant folk. Gamecocks have the same cruel past and r the mascot of the Univ. of South Carolina. One of our own hick lawmakers has talked about the popularity and lure of this sport. Facts support cruel animal gaming is very popular in this county and perhaps within the municipal limits of the capital city. Mississippi is a provincial and rural place that has grand aspirations. Only if California has a mass exodus 2 Jackson due 2 quakes will our people grasp modernity.
The issue isn't whether pits are a "fighting breed" or whatever you want to call it (coincidentally, they were originally bred for several purposes including dogfighting and bull-baiting). While I find dogfighting to be morally repugnant, the plain truth is that a human would have little to fear from a dog bred and trained for dogfighting -- because they are bred and trained for DOGfighting. Aggression towards humans is not the same as aggression toward other dogs, and if you don't understand that, then you don't understand dogs. Yes, some individual dogs may be both human-aggressive and dog-aggressive, but one doesn't necessarily follow the other. Secondly, the issue with breed-specific legislation is that it will never touch the actual problem -- people who feel they need large, strong dogs, and abuse them in order to raise their aggression levels toward humans. Go ahead and ban pit bulls (and every dog that looks remotely like a pit) -- in five years, the problem will be the aggressive, out of control Rottweilers. Ban Rottweilers, and in another 5 years the new problem will be all those German Shepherds. It'll continue down the line, and we'll say goodbye to mastiffs, boxers, dobermans, and eventually, when someone beats his Golden Retriever and leaves it chained up out in the yard, and it kills some child who wanders too close, maybe we'll realize the mistake.
- Mark Geoffriau