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Law would require pit bulls to be registered

July 16, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown residents who own pit bulls would have to register them with the Hagerstown Police Department within 60 days or risk losing them under an ordinance Police Chief Arthur Smith on Tuesday asked the Hagerstown City Council to adopt.

Under the proposal, there would be only one 60-day period during which pit bulls could be registered.

At the close of the registration period, pit bulls could not legally be moved into Hagerstown, and unregistered pit bulls already in the city would be illegal.

In both cases, the owners would be required to forfeit the animals to the city, Smith said.

If, for example, someone were to move from New York to Hagerstown after the 60 days had expired, then "leave your dog in New York," Smith said.

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The proposed ordinance's definition of pit bull and pit bull terrier includes American bulldog and bull terrier.

Under the proposal, Hagerstown residents would be required to pay an annual registration and licensing fee of $50 and their dogs would have to wear tags identifying them as pit bulls.

Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire said he was undecided on the issue. No other council member expressed reservations about the ordinance, which the council is scheduled to introduce at its July 22 meeting.

Smith said the registration should be required for pit bulls because the animals are bred to be more vicious than other dogs.

"When it bites, it attacks in a more dangerous way than any other breed. It does not just bite you - it bites you and holds on," Smith said.

Because pit bulls are fierce, they are the animal of choice for drug dealers, Smith said. The dogs have become one more thing for officers to worry about when they conduct searches, he said.

Smith said that since drug dealers tend not to stay in one place for long, he does not think most dealers would go through the process of registering their dogs.

The ordinance would require pit bull owners either to keep the animal indoors or, when outdoors, confined in an enclosed, locked pen with either a top or with all sides at least 6 feet high or muzzled and kept on a leash.

Under the law, a dog owner would have to show proof of current liability insurance in the minimum amount of $50,000 for bodily injury or death of any person.

Anyone violating the ordinance could be found guilty of a municipal infraction and fined up to $1,000 per day under the proposal.

Smith, a former member of the Baltimore City Police Department, said officers there sometimes had to shoot pit bulls while making drug arrests, which is something Hagerstown police would like to avoid, he said.

Smith said the city hopes publicity about the proposed law will encourage people to find homes outside of Hagerstown for their pit bulls.

"We are hopeful the problem will melt away rather than us having to seize a lot of dogs," he said.

Smith and Hagerstown City Councilwoman Penny Nigh have for more than a year been working to have the city enact an ordinance governing pit bulls.

Discussion of such an ordinance was postponed while the city waited for a presentation from Maria Procopio, who opposed a "breed specific" law. Procopio resigned from her post in June without making the presentation.

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