County to revisit pit bull ban
Thursday, Sept. 15, 2005
by Tiesha Higgins
Staff Writer

The pit bull ban’s future in Prince George’s County rests in the hands of the County Council.

Sponsored by County Councilman Thomas R. Hendershot (D-Dist. 3) of New Carrollton, the bill aims to lift the county’s nine-year ban on owning the dog breed.

‘‘Just because I’m born German American, that doesn’t make me bad,” Hendershot said, linking the breed-specific ban to discrimination. ‘‘If you were to do the same thing based on human beings, it would be a grotesque violation of civil rights.”

With strong opinions on both sides, the Health, Education and Human Services Committee – made up of five County Council members – voted to have the full nine-member council decide the issue. The committee did not make a recommendation in favor or against the ban, in hopes the neutral stance will give the council a chance to consider the bill without the swaying of a committee endorsement.

‘‘This goes far beyond where we’ve ever gone with this legislation,” said Committee Chairman Tony Knotts (D-Dist. 8) of Temple Hills. This was Hendershot’s second attempt to get the bill out of committee.

Under county law, unregistered dogs classified as pit bulls can be impounded and euthanized by the Animal Management Division. The county ban makes exceptions for pit bull owners who registered their pets before the law’s compliance date in February 1997, allowing them to keep their dogs with some limitations.

The new bill would repeal the pit bull ban and add a penalty of $1,000 and possible jail time for owners of any breed of dog found to be vicious.

Hendershot said adopting the repeal bill is ‘‘good public policy.”

In 2002, The Vicious Animal Legislative Task Force, established by the previous council to study the impact of the pit bull ban, found the policy to be inefficient and costly. The task force’s findings are the crux of Hendershot’s case for repeal.

A recent audit of the costs associated with euthanizing or impounding the county’s pit bulls found the regulation cost the county $681,978 while only generating $30,510 in revenue from permits for 2003-2004.

Council members are torn between preventing ownership of pit bulls — a breed that many believe is vicious — and allowing ownership but putting stiffer penalties in place for owners of all dogs exhibiting vicious behavior.

‘‘I’m concerned about the message we send by repealing the ban, but as a dog owner, 95 percent of the problem is the person who trains the dog — not the dog,” said Councilman Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Dist. 4). Peters, who has spoken with several council members on the bill, said the votes on the bill are a close split.

County police oppose lifting the ban, but is in favor of the fine and jail time for vicious dog owners.

Officers said the ban has had a positive impact. Statistics from the department show police calls for service for animal complaints dropped 13 percent for 2003-2004 when compared to 1995-1996, the two years before the bill was enacted.

There are currently 95 pit bulls legally registered in the county.

County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) is opposed to repealing the ban. If Johnson vetoes the measure, the council would need six votes for it to pass. A date for the County Council to discuss the measure had not been scheduled at press time.

E-mail Tiesha Higgins at thiggins@gazette.net.

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