Saturday, August 23, 2003

Pit bulls in doghouse again

Springfield proposes fines, euthanasia

By Reid Forgrave
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] A Pit Bull Terrier runs Friday at the SPCA in Northside.
(Gary Landers photo)
Citing bloody dog bites, organized dogfights and an increasing fear that pit bulls may maim residents, Springfield Township leaders are considering banning the breed.

Across Ohio and the nation, communities have debated the need to control the animal that has become the poster pup for vicious dogs. Springfield Township is the latest to enter the fray, on the heels of Cincinnati, which last month banned pit bull dog ownership. The ban ended a four-year period that placed strict controls on the dog.

In the nine months ending in June, Springfield Township police responded to 161 incidents involving dogs, many of them pit bulls, said Chief David Heimpold.

"I don't want to see a little kid mauled to death because we didn't do anything early enough on," he said.

The proposed ban, which will be voted on in the next two months by township trustees, sets fines for owners and proposes to kill the pit bulls that are caught, unless the dogs are permanently removed from the township.

Owners such as Kim Perkins, who with her husband breeds pit bulls and boxers in Warsaw, Ky., say officials blame the dogs when they should blame owners. She acknowledged that hers are protectors - like most other breeds of dogs - and have a nasty bark when a stranger is at her door. But she's never had one of her dogs bite, snarl or nip. Instead, they play and cuddle with her four children, ages 1 to 15.

"They just want your lovin's," she said. Bans and penalties should be for fighting or abusing the dogs, she said, not simply against ownership.

Ohio law defines the pit bull breed as a vicious dog and requires owners of all vicious dogs to carry at least $100,000 in liability insurance.

Heimpold promised his officers wouldn't go on a townshipwide hunt for pit bulls. Under the proposed ordinance, those caught owning the dogs would be fined $100 for the first violation and $200 for each one thereafter. And the dog would be killed or removed from the township. The proposed ordinance also limits the ownership of other so-called vicious dogs, which are defined as those that have caused injury to a person or killed another dog or domestic animal. Owners would be obligated to get liability insurance worth more than $50,000 and to keep the dog inside or confined in a locked pen outside.

"Every other day we're getting a call about pit bulls," township trustee Joseph Honerlaw said. "So we're trying to take a proactive role and address the concerns that people bring to us."

Pit bull refers not to a specific breed but to a group of dogs with similar characteristics, according to a Web site that embraces the dog. The most common breed referred to as pit bulls are American Staffordshire Terrier and American Pit Bull Terrier.

Not everyone celebrates the breed: Many communities have debated the safety of pit bull ownership for years.

The village of Mariemont added a vicious dog law in July. Its punishments, depending on the severity of the incident, range from a $25 fine and mandated obedience training to jail time and killing the dog. In June, Covington leaders decided pit bulls could remain in the city if their owners paid to have an identifying microchip implanted in the dog. The change led to an upswing in pit bulls at the county animal shelter.

In the first six months of 2003, 40 percent of all dog bites reported in Cincinnati were from pit bulls, councilman Pat DeWine has said. And an Avondale man is awaiting trial on a felonious assault charge for allegedly attacking a woman in April with his pit bull. Court records say Gregory Twitty, 23, told his pit bull to bite and therefore caused serious physical harm by means of a deadly weapon.

Still, pit bull defenders say blame the deed, not the breed.

"Putting it all on the dog isn't the way to go," said Michael Snyder of Seattle, president of the American Pit Bull Terrier Association. "If a dog goes down the street and bites somebody, it should be treated like when a person goes down the street and punches somebody.

"People have to be responsible for their own actions," he said. "As well as the actions of their dog."


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