City leaders prepare to vote on controversial pit bull law

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - The debate over stricter rules for pit bull owners in Albany continues.

Some leaders say the dogs are dangerous and need to be regulated.  Critics say the proposed ordinance is unfair and difficult to enforce.

Some say pit bulls are like dangerous weapons, but not everyone agrees.

"German shepherds can be just as bad. Rottweilers, what happens when we ban or put all of these restrictions on pit bulls? What's next?  Pit bull owners are just gonna go out and get rottweilers next," said Dr. Carie Wisell, Veterinarian.

Dr. Wisell says many of her clients own pit bulls.  She said a breed specific ordinance will not work. "The people who want to do bad things with dogs are still going to do it.  They'll just get a different breed."

City Leaders said studies show pits bite more often.

"They have an ability to tear more than other dogs do, generally speaking," said Bob Langstaff, Albany City Commissioner.

Langstaff said a proposal before commissioners will improve public safety.  It would require owners to build fully enclosed dog pens, get a $100,000 liability insurance policy and muzzles for animals.

"Unfortunately with the pit bull there may not be a second chance.  It could be a devastating injury the first time it gets loose," Langstaff said.

But some dogs like Steve Kender's Staffordshire Terrier named Georgia, commonly classified as a pit bull, are used as therapy dog.  He worries the law could force him and Georgia to quit, because she would be automatically considered dangerous, and would have to wear a muzzle

"You know, maybe when you go from the house to the car you'd have to have it muzzled," said Langstaff.  "But once he's in the hospital I wouldn't think so.  I hadn't looked at the ordinance to see exactly how it's written, but we should definitely make it so he could do that," he said.

Critics say non-breed specific ordinances and mandated sterilization could be another answer.

"Those that don't want to spay or neuter, their pets should be registered as a breeder," said Dr. Wisell.  "With that of course comes a fee to do that registration.  That fee can help spay and neuter programs."

She said vets already pay 50 cents for rabies tags for dogs only.  She suggests increasing that to $1.00 for all animals, which would also generate money to support the program and cut down on unwanted dogs of all breeds.

"The vets could offer a low cost if Albany can do like the USDA was trying to do with the funds that they gather," said Wisell.  "If [the city] can subsidize vets so that the veterinarians aren't the ones having to pay, because right now we're the ones having to pay to accept a lower cost for our services.  Not that that's a bad thing," he noted, "all of us do it."

But further complications face the proposed ordinance, like identifying pit bulls.  Some argue the pit bull breed doesn't actually exist, and is instead a group of structural characteristics shared among many dogs.  And proving a dog is in fact a pit bull could be costly for the city.

"It's gonna be a problem, I mean there's no doubt about it.  I think that is one of the big…that's one of the main criticisms of the pit bull ordinance," said Langstaff.

The city will bear the burden of proof against owners, and will need to conduct DNA tests to prove if the dog is a pit bull, a definition set by city leaders.  Each test will cost $75, and some worry it will be a drain on the city's budget.

Commissioner Jon Howard believes the ordinance needs to be improved, but wants to see it pass and tweak it afterwards.  Commissioner Langstaff is open to tweaking the proposal, as are most other leaders, and says it's the best answer to improve safety and keep incidents from happening.

Other board members don't like the existing proposal, and say it may be too hard to enforce.  They worry passing the ordinance will lead to more abandoned animals, and put an unnecessary burden on responsible pet owners.

Leaders have heard from both sides and are continuing to review the proposal.  They'll take a final vote next Tuesday.

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