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Pit bull law put on hold

November 05, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

The Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday informally agreed with a suggestion by the city's police chief that the council delay adopting a pit bull ordinance until it can be determined whether increased enforcement of a Washington County animal control law would suffice.

Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith over the summer proposed a law that would ban unregistered pit bulls. He later asked the council to postpone action on the proposal until after he met with Paul Miller, the Humane Society of Washington County's new executive director.

"We may still need to get a pit bull ordinance to control pit bulls," Smith told the council during Tuesday's work session.

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But Smith said he would feel more comfortable waiting to take that action until the city first tries some of Miller's suggestions.

Miller, who took over the Humane Society post in early September, has worked with governments and police on the issue elsewhere in the nation.

Miller opposes breed-specific laws, including the one proposed by Smith. Smith said Miller made a convincing argument that the proposed pit bull law might lead to problems because it is sometimes hard to distinguish between breeds.

Miller told the council that problems with dangerous animals can be better tackled by increasing both staffing and enforcement of the animal control law.

Miller said the Humane Society needs more than the two animal control officers it has, but said he has not determined how many more employees are needed or figured out how additional positions could be funded.

During the work session, Miller provided an example of how the county's laws can be used to deal with concerns about dangerous animals.

He said he received a phone call Monday from a resident concerned that a person with one or two pit bulls was moving in nearby.

At a minimum, an animal control officer can visit a resident and do a "welfare check," making sure the animal has proper shots, for example, Miller said.

The animal control officer can give the resident a copy of the animal control law and tell the person, "I do not ever want to come back here again," he said.

County law permits the Humane Society to declare specific animals vicious and dangerous. That designation would require the animal to be kept in a cage or building away from people or other animals. Any time the animal was out of that secure place, it would have to be muzzled, leashed and under the control of someone older than 16.

If the dog's owner requests it, the dog will be killed, under the county law.

Miller said he probably would approach the county government about amending the county law to allow animal control officers to be more proactive in identifying dogs deemed vicious and dangerous.

Under the proposed pit bull ordinance, Hagerstown residents who own pit bulls would have to register them with the Hagerstown Police Department within 60 days or risk losing them.

The ordinance would provide for 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.

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