Van Poised To Take Stand On Pit Bulls
By MELISSA CROWE
Van could become the third city in Texas to take a stand on pit bull and cross breeds.
The issue came up after Douglas Wolfe, a Van resident, proposed an outright ban on "dangerous animals," specifically Rottweilers and pit bull dogs, at the Nov. 4 council meeting.
Wolfe's proposal came a mere five days after a 7-month-old pit bull, owned by a family friend, mauled his 2-year-old granddaughter, Summer Adams.
The only two other towns in Texas to take a position on vicious or dangerous dog ownership are Gar-land and Madisonville.
Madisonville passed an absolute ban on vicious dog breeds; however, owners of grandfathered dogs must have at least $100,000 of liability protection and a $30 annual permit.
According to the city's ordinance, which took effect in August, "The keeping of dogs, which are vicious and dangerous, is a public nuisance and a serious threat to the health, welfare and safety of citizens of Madisonville."
"Vicious breeds," according to the ordinance, include dogs with a predisposition to aggressiveness and traits such as strong fighting and chasing instincts, diminished tendency to warn prey of intent to attack, ability to withstand great pain, powerful jaws and a tendency to tear flesh.
The dogs must be kept in a locked pen and muzzled and leashed when taken out of the pen. Owners must also post a "beware of dog" sign and give a photo of the dog to the city. If the dog has puppies, owners have 10 weeks to get them out of the city. Failure to comply with the ordinance could result in a $50 a day fine.
Garland took another approach to dealing with aggressive dogs, such as pit bulls and cross breeds.
Pit bulls still are allowed in the city; however, owners must keep them behind a strict fencing directive.
By enforcing the fencing standard, the city's animal shelter is able to adopt out those breeds instead of euthanize them, and now have some guidelines for responsible ownership, said city employee Dorothy White.
Because more than one fourth of all dogs caught at large within Garland are pit bulls, the city enacted the directive in August requiring those dog owners to maintain the animals within a secure, six-foot fence.
Garland already had a fencing ordinance for all dogs, and this new directive simply puts guidelines on fences for pit bull and cross breeds, Jason Chessher, Garland's department of health director, said.
Chessher said local municipalities cannot create breed specific ordinances or regulations. In Madisonville, Ruth Smith, a city employee, said their regulation is trait specific rather than breed specific.
However, in Van, Wolfe wants to see a third degree felony offense for pit bull ownership.
"Halfway measures don't cut it," Wolfe said. "We have to prevent the attacks, prevent the next death, and the only way to do that is ban the dogs."
The item will be discussed at the Dec. 9 city council meeting.
After the council meeting, Wolfe said he plans to take the issue countywide and then help state Rep. Chuck Hopson pass a statewide ban on the breed.
If the ban fails, he will try for animal ordinances: Anyone owning a "dangerous animal" signs a form stating they are aware it is "inherently dangerous," and accept full liability and responsibility for their pet.
"If (pet owners) worked with us on these restrictions, then we could eliminate the problem without having to eliminate the dog," Wolfe said.
For the past four years, Wolfe has followed dog attack reports.
"I've sat on my butt and done nothing, then it hit home," Wolfe said. "What if I had (spoken up) four years ago? This attack on my granddaughter might not have happened."
Wolfe's granddaughter is one of the estimated 4.7 million Americans bitten by dogs every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and P revention
At least 25 breeds of dogs were involved in 238 human dog bite deaths from 1980 to 2000. More than half those deaths involved pit bull-type dogs and Rottweilers, according to a 2000 study by the CDC.
Miss Adams suffered 18.5 inches of lacerations and a cracked skull in the mauling.
She is recovering at home.
Because the attack happened outside of city limits, any decision the council makes would not have affected her situation.
Mayor Billy Wilson said, as a grandfather, Wolfe's testimony at the meeting "struck home."
While the council is "not turning a blind eye to this situation," he said they will need to review their options before taking action.
He would not speculate on a time frame or the extent of action, but said, "Something will be done about the situation."
He said the city council will compare other cities' ordinances and see what "best fits" Van.
"There are pros and cons each way," Wilson said. "But for the most part, folks agree that it is a bad situation."
However, Van Zandt County Sheriff R.P. "Pat" Burnett Jr., said passing a law requiring officers and deputies to patrol for pit bulls detracts from the time they spend on other crimes.
"Just to do away with them is impossible," Burnett said. "We don't need a fight, we need common sense legislation."
Burnett said lawmakers must start with the source of the problem -- people not taking care of their dogs.
His solution is regulating breeders and requiring them to have insurance and maintain liability for their dogs.
"You can't legislate intelligence or morals," he said.
The issue is the owner, not the dog, he said.
While the breed is labeled "dangerous," he said it is bred, set and trained in them from people mistreating and mistraining them.
"The Doberman was the one that everybody was so scared of, but now you don't hear anything about Dobermans," he said.
Other animals previously threatened with bans include the chow, German shepherd and St. Bernard.
City Councilman Jackie Nations does not want the breed "abolished," but said he wants pit bulls to be restrained.
"It's hard to point at people who take care of and love their animals and say, 'You can't have one because he's a pit bull,'" Nations said. "On the other hand, if you were to be bit by one, you'd have a completely different opinion."
City Councilman Wayne Horton also refrained from giving his opinion on the issue, but said their decision will be "best for the majority."
"It's certainly understandable when someone has a loved one attacked by a dog to have feelings like Mr. Wolfe has, and I respect that," Horton said. "But you have to have respect for both sides of the issue. … It's not like deciding to do away with the drinking fountain in the office."