Residents speak out about proposed pit bull law

July 23, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

As audience members looked at pictures taken of his daughter following a May 2002 dog attack, Mark Kurzawa on Tuesday urged the Hagerstown City Council to pass an ordinance that could help prevent further such incidents.

Nine other people who addressed the council Tuesday spoke against a proposed ordinance under which Hagerstown residents who own pit bulls would have to register them with the Hagerstown Police Department within 60 days or risk losing them.

Three people, including Kurzawa, spoke in favor of the ordinance.

Kurzawa's comments came after nine speakers questioned whether it was fair and effective to try to address problems of dog violence and drug dealers having pit bulls by essentially banning the breed.


Before he spoke, Kurzawa walked over to the desk of Councilwoman Penny May Nigh and borrowed pictures she had that showed his daughter, then 6 years old, after she was attacked outside the city limits by a dog - a pit bull/chow/Shar-Pei mix - and suffered facial injuries that required 40 stitches. His daughter, Hope, is Nigh's niece.

While Councilman Lewis C. Metzner, who was acting as mayor in Mayor William M. Breichner's absence, asked for Kurzawa to sit down and address the council, Kurzawa instead handed the enlarged photographs to audience members, some of whom had just finished speaking favorably about their pet pit bulls.

As Metzner's pleas became more urgent, Kurzawa sat down and said he wanted to provide "the logical side" of the issue.

He asked: How can the city decide that a dog, which can be replaced, is more important than his irreplaceable daughter?

He compared owning a pit bull to owning a mountain lion, saying it was not safe for the community and the pet owner should be held responsible if problems occur.

"I feel sorry for her. That breaks my heart," pit bull owner Donna Avila of Hagerstown said later in response. But the girl could just as easily have been bitten by a dog of another breed, she said.

The council was scheduled to vote Tuesday to introduce the pit bull ordinance, but the police chief and the city attorney asked that the item be withdrawn and postponed for about one month so some questions could be addressed.

Christel Frazier said she objects that all pit bulls, including her 7-year-old, Wisdom, are getting a bad reputation because some owners train them to be mean. What matters is not the breed but how the animals are trained, she said.

"She is being labeled badly because of other dogs who have made bad decisions," she said. "They (the dogs) are evil because they are trained to be evil."

Victoria K. Bodnar took time during her 25th wedding anniversary to express support for the ordinance, which might help address the problem of people who use pit bulls "as a weapon of intimidation," she said.

Bodnar said she has watched neighbors encourage their pit bulls to fight with other pit bulls.

"I know there are many who don't do that but there must be something done to deal with that type of dog owner," she said.

Following are details about the proposed pit bull law:

  • Pit bull owners would have to register the dogs with the Hagerstown Police Department within 60 days or risk losing them. At the close of the 60-day registration period, pit bulls could not legally be brought into Hagerstown or be registered late.

  • The ordinance's definition of pit bull and pit bull terrier includes American bulldogs and bull terriers.

  • To register a dog, its 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.

  • Owners of registered pit bulls must either 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.

Source: City of Hagerstown ordinance

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