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Albany City Commission to consider pit bull legislation

An ordinance based on the Georgia definition of a pit bull has been proposed in Albany

Albany City AttorneyNathan Davis has drafted a proposed breed-specific ordinance to impose greater restrictions on ownership of so-called pit bull dogs. Davis cites what he says is a high incidence of severe injuries the animals have caused throughout the city. (Staff Photo: Jim West)

Albany City AttorneyNathan Davis has drafted a proposed breed-specific ordinance to impose greater restrictions on ownership of so-called pit bull dogs. Davis cites what he says is a high incidence of severe injuries the animals have caused throughout the city. (Staff Photo: Jim West)

ALBANY — Talk to almost any owner of a dog known loosely as a “pit bull” and you’ll hear a string of glowing praise. How could anyone blame these cozy, people-loving pets for harming anyone?

On Monday, however, the Albany City Commission is set to consider new, more stringent conditions for ownership of the breed.

Albany City Attorney Nathan Davis, along with animal control director Sherman Davis and Assistant City Manager Wes Smith, put the proposal together, Davis said, based on local and national statistics for the dog’s capacity to create injury, not for its general temperament.

“Statistical evidence is that while pit bulls represent a fairly low percentage of the overall dog population, they’re responsible for a very high percentage of the severe injuries to people,” Davis said. “One of the things that came out, when reviewed by a citizens advisory committee, is that when (pit bulls) bite, unlike other dogs, they tend to latch on to you and not let go.”

Davis cites a number of recent Albany pit pull attacks, including one in which a young child was severely bitten then dragged by the dog before being rescued by a neighbor.

The proposed pit bull ordinance may include a $100 fee to register each animal, a requirement to provide a specific type of structure for confinement, and proof of substantial liability insurance should the dog escape and do harm to human beings.

One potential issue in the legislation of such a “breed-specific” ordinance is the definition of a so-called “pit bull,” which has never formally existed as a distinct breed. The legal definition would be provided by the ordinance in use by the state of Georgia, which Davis hopes will serve local purposes.

The description reads in part: “The term pit bull dog is defined to refer to any dog which is an American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or any dog displaying the majority of physical traits of any one or more of the above breeds, or any dog exhibiting those distinguishing characteristics which substantially conforms to the standards established by the American Kennel Club or United Kennel Club for any of the above breeds.”

Davis said that in cases which might be challenged, if the lineage of the dog is less than clear, dog owners might pay for DNA testing to establish breed definition.

Not everyone is in favor of breed-specific legislation, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, which says that fatal attacks represent a very small proportion of dog bite injuries to people, and that it’s “virtually impossible” to calculate bite rates for specific breeds. The CDC goes on to state that the types of people who look to exploit dogs aren’t deterred by breed regulations and, when bans are established, usually seek out new and unregulated breeds, which can also be dangerous.

Don’t tell that to Martha Ann Coe, director of code enforcement and animal control in Terrell County, where strict pit bull restrictions have been in place since early 2012. Among other requirements, owners must pay an annual registration fee of $100, provide a confinement of at least 10 feet square with a roof and floor of concrete or buried wire mesh. The confinement must be padlocked at all times, Coe said, and warnings must be posted on all four sides of the enclosure. If the animal is ever outside the enclosure, it must be muzzled and on a sturdy leash that is no longer than six feet, according to Coe, and the owner must carry a liability policy on the animal of at least $100,000. Coe said the insurance costs an average of $700 a year.

Coe said she believes the harsh requirements have made for a real and positive change in the number of attack cases, and also in the number of abused animals, although it hasn’t made her the most popular person in certain circles.

“I’ve been threatened a couple times and called some ugly names, but it’s all a part of the job,” she said.