Monday, April 11, 2011
Recent incidents involving man’s best friend not being so friendly have resulted in Fulton asking some tough questions when it comes to canines.
One particular breed has once again come to the forefront of these discussions — pit bulls, which is what people commonly call the breed or a mix of the breed officially recognized as the American pit bull terrier. Some argue that the breed is a nuisance, others that it is lovable and simply misused by some people.
Although banning the pit bull breed within city limits has not been suggested at any recent city council meetings, both the breed and the current animal ordinance were brought up at the last council meeting on March 28. Forming a committee that would consider amending the city’s animal ordinance was discussed after concerns were raised that it wasn’t effective enough in certain situations.
“In my opinion, the ordinance we have today doesn’t have enough teeth,” Major Roger Rice of the Fulton Police Department told the council. “We’re not making people responsible for their animals.”
Rice said on Thursday that he would like to see people receive higher fines when the circumstances call for it.
The police department or animal control can issue dog owners a summons for an unrestrained or vicious dog.
However, Rice said in his experience, many times the owner will only receive the minimum charge of $25 on the first offense for a dog running at large.
City Prosecuting Attorney Casey Clevenger said that although she hasn’t had any cases since taking her position in January that involved prosecuting dog owners for loose or vicious dogs, she could “anticipate certain facts in cases where higher fines would be appropriate where another animal is injured or a human is injured.”
Under the penalties section of the city’s animal ordinance, it reads: “First offense, not less than $25 and not more than $500.” Not restraining an animal, it running loose from its owner’s property, it endangering a human or other animal, not confining a vicious animal, or an owner failing to provide sufficient care for an animal are all violations of the city’s ordinance.
Rice said any amendments to the ordinance should include stricter regulations on vicious animals in general.
“Making an ordinance that’s breed specific is not going to help, because any animal can attack and bite people, and it doesn’t matter what breed it is,” he said.
Les Hudson, director of planning and protective services, has also voiced the opinion that banning a certain breed would not solve the problem of vicious dog incidents within the city. Hudson broached the topic at previous council meetings, since the March 1 incident with a pit bull causing severe injuries to Fulton postman Tom Galloway was of concern to the city.
There are some who have brought accusations against the pit bull breed in general, including Don Beauchamp, whose dog was attacked by a loose pit bull on March 18. Beauchamp told the council the breed was a danger.
“These dogs are dangerous to you, to your family. It’s not a good dog for kids to be around,” he said.
He added, “When one of these animals grabs a hold of your dog, your child, yourself, they do not let go.”
In a letter to The Fulton Sun, Bill Galloway, the brother of the injured Fulton postal worker, stated: “There has been a great deal of discussion surrounding what should be done to protect persons, not just mailmen, from vicious dog attacks. There continues to be debate about whether the animals who attacked my brother were by nature violent because they were pit bulls. What I do know is that throughout the U.S., there have been numerous attacks by pit bulls resulting in not just critical injuries but many deaths; more than any other breed of dog by leaps and bounds … As to what city officials in Fulton can do, I believe that banning ownership of pit bulls inside the city limits would be a step in the right direction.”
Bill, a resident of Holts Summit, said on Thursday, that pit bulls don’t belong inside the city and should be banned.
“I would support that ban inside Jefferson City, Holts Summit, any city,” he said.
Bill explained that he doesn’t believe pit bulls pick up vicious behaviors because of their owners.
“Certain dogs have certain demeanors no matter how they’re raised.”
Bill also said his brother has had two reconstructive plastic surgeries since the pit bull bit his face and will have to have at least one more.
Sandy Corbet, president of the Callaway County Humane Society, said one of the reasons there are so many cases of pit bull bites is simply because there is currently such a large population pit bulls and bully mixes. She said the majority of the dogs the society takes in have some sort of mix of the pit bull breed. She then said a pit bull’s behavior depends on how it is treated and trained.
“I think it’s wrong to ban the breed,” Corbet said, adding that in most cases it’s mistreatment that leads to aggressive behavior.
According to websites on the American pit bull terrier, one of the original purposes for breeding pit bulls was for dog fighting.
Corbet said the breed has the tendency to be dog aggressive but not generally people aggressive.
“I think the blame is going in the wrong place,” Corbet said. “The blame is not to go on the animal itself, but the humans that are nurturing those behaviors in the animals.”
Tiffany McBee runs Broken Hearts, Mending Souls Rescue, a licensed rescue facility for pit bulls and bully breeds. McBee also works with officials busting those involved with dog fighting, now an illicit business in the U.S. McBee owns two pit bulls herself.
“They are so great with my children,” McBee said. “My kids wouldn’t know any other breed.”
McBee said pit bulls are “very people-oriented” and as long as they aren’t mistreated, they can be wonderful pets. She went on to say pit bulls are extremely loyal to their owners and will do anything for them, which is why if they are in the wrong hands, it can be a detrimental situation.
“This breed is probably the most misused by human beings on the planet,” she said.
McBee went on to explain how people who are unprepared and ill-educated about the breed encourage aggression in pit bulls with disastrous results, especially for the dog itself.
“Blame the deed not the breed,” is the common saying she said and “honestly it couldn’t be truer.”
McBee gave packets to the city council and animal control with some animal ordinances they could simulate that she believes would be helpful.
Fulton Postmaster Roger Bounds said it seems that his carriers complain about loose or aggressive pit bulls more than any other breed, but added that may be because there are so many of them in Fulton.
Bounds said he’s not sure of an exact solution to fewer dog incidents but suggested “either an ordinance that restricts the ownership of larger dogs within the city limits or a steeper fine that affects the (owners of) dogs that are loose.”
He said banning one breed isn’t going to help because “all dogs are able to bite.”
“They’re just trying to protect their territory, and you just have to be aware of that. Even the little dogs can bite, but the little dogs aren’t going to be able to knock you down and bite you in the face like a big dog.”
Bounds said even if a big dog is restrained outside, it can break its collar or restraint, so he thinks something needs to change to protect those, like his carriers, that are working around the city.
“They ought to be able to do their job without the fear of being attacked by a dog,” he said.
Holts Summit veterinarian and dog behavioral trainer, Dr. Mar Doering, said she’s seen all types of dogs that have aggression problems. She said when canines aren’t given the right direction by their owners, they can revert to aggression because of fear.
“I think the pit bull as a breed is great, but it needs to have a responsible owner,” Doering said. “The pit bulls I see that come to me have owners that are very responsible and those dogs are excellent.”
Doering said large breeds, like the pit bull, need lots of exercise to be calm, and they need the right kind of training.
“I would hate for people to think that it’s the pit bull breed or any other breed that should be condemned just because of the breed,” she said.
Tina Barnes, Fulton animal control supervisor, also said any breed of dog can show aggression
“It’s all in how the animals are raised and how they’re treated,” Barnes said.
Also the supervisor at Garrett Animal Shelter, Barnes said she hasn’t seen more instances of one breed with vicious tendencies than any other.
“All dogs can be mean,” she insisted, “it doesn’t matter what the breed is.”
Matt Harline, assistant to the city director of administration, said the topic of stricter animal control will most likely be revisited again after the new city officials take their positions.
“The issue’s not going to go away,” Harline said.