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Archive for Saturday, November 16, 2002

Incident may push county to ban pit bulls

November 16, 2002

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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.

âÂÂNothing is off the table,â Commissioner Charles Jones said. âÂÂI think we ought to bust heads. The alternative is to wait until some kid gets killed Ãi¿½" and I canâÂÂt stomach that.âÂÂ

Said Jere McElhaney, commission chairman: âÂÂIâÂÂm with you 100 percent. If youâÂÂve ever seen a kid mauled by a dog Ãi¿½" and I have Ãi¿½" I have to say itâÂÂs worse than a knife fight. I wish we could just take a vote right now and get it done.âÂÂ

But commissioners realize strong words alone wonâÂÂt get the laws stiffened or make enforcement more effective Ãi¿½" 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 donâÂÂt always jibe.

Just ask Anthony Raulsten. The Lawrence man owns six pit bulls, and his new puppy, Shy, would rather lick someoneâÂÂs finger than bite it off.

Regulations or rules for licensing are fine, he said, but a ban would be all bark and no bite.

âÂÂIf they get rid of pit bulls, people will just find something else to fight,â said Raulsten, holding the 6-month-old puppy in his arms. âÂÂTheyâÂÂd get Rottweilers. TheyâÂÂd find something else.

âÂÂTheyâÂÂre just scared of what people do with them.âÂÂ

People turn their dogs into fighters, he said, the dogs arenâÂÂt 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 wasnâÂÂt fair. Officials instead should focus on each dogâÂÂs actions and the responsibilities of its owner, they said, and not condemn a breed just because itâÂÂs known for strong jaws.

System âÂÂ'a failureâÂÂ

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 Ãi¿½" and therefore required to be kept in six-sided pens, and tightly leashed and muzzled when taken out by an owner Ãi¿½" reports of dog attacks continue to come in. MondayâÂÂs attack by pit bulls Attila and Lucius came after the animals had been picked up twice by animal control officers.

There shouldnâÂÂt have been a chance for a third, he said.

âÂÂYou would think that after three times that somewhere the system would have responded before now,â Jones said. âÂÂItâÂÂs a failure, and itâÂÂs a profound failure thatâÂÂs going to result in some kid getting killed.

âÂÂItâÂÂs going to take a response not only from us, but from the sheriffâÂÂs office, the police department, the district attorney and the courts to resolve these problems.âÂÂ

Midge Grinstead, executive director of the Lawrence Humane Society, said she would fight a proposed ban âÂÂtooth and nail,â because of its underlying assumption that the dogs were to blame.

Besides, she said, how could anyone enforce it?

âÂÂDogs are too easy to move,â she said. âÂÂJust put it in your car and drive it over to a friendâÂÂs house. âÂÂ'I donâÂÂt have a pit bull.â How many times are you going to visit that property looking for that dog?âÂÂ

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 dogâÂÂs description, address and other information that would help officials keep track of potentially dangerous dogs.

Taking control

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.

âÂÂThe answer is to take control,â Grinstead said. âÂÂKnow who has the pit bulls. Know where theyâÂÂre at. If you find somebody with an unlicensed pit bull, the law should read that you lose it, period. âÂÂ: And theyâÂÂll learn for the next time.

âÂÂThere have to be resolutions. You canâÂÂt just say, âÂÂ'LetâÂÂs license themâ without giving us and the police department and the sheriffâÂÂs department and the animal control officers the authority to say, âÂÂ'You donâÂÂt have it licensed, itâÂÂs my dog now and IâÂÂm taking it.âÂÂâÂÂ

Jones and his fellow commissioners know the upcoming debate about a potential ban or heightened restrictions will be long and loud, but heâÂÂs 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.

âÂÂI donâÂÂt care if itâÂÂs futile,â he said. âÂÂEvery time this issue comes up, IâÂÂm going to pound the desk and say weâÂÂve got to do something, because if we donâÂÂt, somebodyâÂÂs going to get hurt. And it will be through our negligence.âÂÂ

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