Douglas County commissioners say pit bulls are too strong, too dangerous and too angry to live among adults, children and their pets in the Lawrence area.
And after two pit bulls attacked and killed a Labrador retriever earlier this week in east Lawrence, commissioners are bracing to take on pit bull owners and supporters and fight for a ban on the controversial canine breed.
Other options will be considered, they say, but a ban tops the list.
Ã¢ÂÂNothing is off the table,Ã¢ÂÂ Commissioner Charles Jones said. Ã¢ÂÂI think we ought to bust heads. The alternative is to wait until some kid gets killed ÃiÂ¿Â½" and I canÃ¢ÂÂt stomach that.Ã¢ÂÂ
Said Jere McElhaney, commission chairman: Ã¢ÂÂIÃ¢ÂÂm with you 100 percent. If youÃ¢ÂÂve ever seen a kid mauled by a dog ÃiÂ¿Â½" and I have ÃiÂ¿Â½" I have to say itÃ¢ÂÂs worse than a knife fight. I wish we could just take a vote right now and get it done.Ã¢ÂÂ
But commissioners realize strong words alone wonÃ¢ÂÂt get the laws stiffened or make enforcement more effective ÃiÂ¿Â½" especially in a county where reports of dog fights are on the rise, pit bull sales thrive and the cause and effect of rules and regulations donÃ¢ÂÂt always jibe.
Just ask Anthony Raulsten. The Lawrence man owns six pit bulls, and his new puppy, Shy, would rather lick someoneÃ¢ÂÂs finger than bite it off.
Regulations or rules for licensing are fine, he said, but a ban would be all bark and no bite.
Ã¢ÂÂIf they get rid of pit bulls, people will just find something else to fight,Ã¢ÂÂ said Raulsten, holding the 6-month-old puppy in his arms. Ã¢ÂÂTheyÃ¢ÂÂd get Rottweilers. TheyÃ¢ÂÂd find something else.
Ã¢ÂÂTheyÃ¢ÂÂre just scared of what people do with them.Ã¢ÂÂ
People turn their dogs into fighters, he said, the dogs arenÃ¢ÂÂt automatically fighters.
Area governments have been down this road before.
Two years ago, county commissioners beefed up their rules and regulations when a man pushed officials into action after his granddaughter was attacked by a pit bull at Clinton Lake.
Lawrence city commissioners also considered a pit bull ban but opted for new regulations instead after dozens of people packed into City Hall to argue that outlawing a particular breed wasnÃ¢ÂÂt fair. Officials instead should focus on each dogÃ¢ÂÂs actions and the responsibilities of its owner, they said, and not condemn a breed just because itÃ¢ÂÂs known for strong jaws.
System Ã¢ÂÂ'a failureÃ¢ÂÂ
Jones used to think that way, too. But since the laws were updated, he said, not a single case has been brought to court to find an owner guilty of harboring a vicious dog.
While six dogs are registered with the city as being vicious ÃiÂ¿Â½" and therefore required to be kept in six-sided pens, and tightly leashed and muzzled when taken out by an owner ÃiÂ¿Â½" reports of dog attacks continue to come in. MondayÃ¢ÂÂs attack by pit bulls Attila and Lucius came after the animals had been picked up twice by animal control officers.
There shouldnÃ¢ÂÂt have been a chance for a third, he said.
Ã¢ÂÂYou would think that after three times that somewhere the system would have responded before now,Ã¢ÂÂ Jones said. Ã¢ÂÂItÃ¢ÂÂs a failure, and itÃ¢ÂÂs a profound failure thatÃ¢ÂÂs going to result in some kid getting killed.
Ã¢ÂÂItÃ¢ÂÂs going to take a response not only from us, but from the sheriffÃ¢ÂÂs office, the police department, the district attorney and the courts to resolve these problems.Ã¢ÂÂ
Midge Grinstead, executive director of the Lawrence Humane Society, said she would fight a proposed ban Ã¢ÂÂtooth and nail,Ã¢ÂÂ because of its underlying assumption that the dogs were to blame.
Besides, she said, how could anyone enforce it?
Ã¢ÂÂDogs are too easy to move,Ã¢ÂÂ she said. Ã¢ÂÂJust put it in your car and drive it over to a friendÃ¢ÂÂs house. Ã¢ÂÂ'I donÃ¢ÂÂt have a pit bull.Ã¢ÂÂ How many times are you going to visit that property looking for that dog?Ã¢ÂÂ
Her preference: Start a mandatory licensing and registration system for all pit bulls. Owners and breeders would be required by law to buy a license from the city or county, she said, outlining each dogÃ¢ÂÂs description, address and other information that would help officials keep track of potentially dangerous dogs.
If a dog were found to attack, Grinstead said, the law would give officers the basic information needed to start prosecution. And any animal found not to be registered could be seized by authorities.
Breeders whose dogs tended to show up often among problems canines also could be held responsible, she said.
Ã¢ÂÂThe answer is to take control,Ã¢ÂÂ Grinstead said. Ã¢ÂÂKnow who has the pit bulls. Know where theyÃ¢ÂÂre at. If you find somebody with an unlicensed pit bull, the law should read that you lose it, period. Ã¢ÂÂ: And theyÃ¢ÂÂll learn for the next time.
Ã¢ÂÂThere have to be resolutions. You canÃ¢ÂÂt just say, Ã¢ÂÂ'LetÃ¢ÂÂs license themÃ¢ÂÂ without giving us and the police department and the sheriffÃ¢ÂÂs department and the animal control officers the authority to say, Ã¢ÂÂ'You donÃ¢ÂÂt have it licensed, itÃ¢ÂÂs my dog now and IÃ¢ÂÂm taking it.Ã¢ÂÂÃ¢ÂÂ
Jones and his fellow commissioners know the upcoming debate about a potential ban or heightened restrictions will be long and loud, but heÃ¢ÂÂs counting on it being productive.
If nothing else, riling up enough people to fill the commission meeting room for a meeting sometime during the next few weeks should at least get people talking about finding a workable solution.
Ã¢ÂÂI donÃ¢ÂÂt care if itÃ¢ÂÂs futile,Ã¢ÂÂ he said. Ã¢ÂÂEvery time this issue comes up, IÃ¢ÂÂm going to pound the desk and say weÃ¢ÂÂve got to do something, because if we donÃ¢ÂÂt, somebodyÃ¢ÂÂs going to get hurt. And it will be through our negligence.Ã¢ÂÂ