Sunday, March 19, 2006

Anti-dog ordinance is the pits

Like it? 
Ever wish you could throw a muzzle on law-abiding people and keep them locked up so they can't hurt anyone?

I sure don't! No way!

But if I were that sort of person...

Um, separately, I'd like to discuss something that may be coincidentally relevant. This week, City Councilors Pat Casey and Tom Kozak and City Council President William F. Whitty introduced a measure that would criminalize all pit bull and Rottweiler dogs.

If passed, the strict ordinance would force all owners of these dogs to build 6-foot fences around their property. Then they'd have to keep a secure, locked pen on the property if the dog is going to be outside. Oh, and also, the dogs can't leave the property for any reason, except to go to the vet or to be permanently banished from the city.

Ridiculous enough for you? Wait -- there's more! You also can't sell a pit bull or Rottweiler anywhere in the city.

Whitty has told this newspaper that he's looking into "tweaking" the measure before it goes up for a vote. However, "tweaking," Whitty said, does not mean making it less restrictive. I'm wondering what he does mean by "tweaking." Adding commas? Printing it out on the good paper?

I'm an animal lover. I own two dogs. Neither one is a pit bull or a Rottie. Someday in the future, some blithering idiot in city government might start suggesting that border collie/lab mixes and/or pointers are "killer canines," too. So I have a vested interest in this.

Nobody wants kids to be mauled, but this measure has key flaws that you can't "tweak" away:

-- You can't tell the viciousness of a dog by its breed. The two breeds responsible for the most dog bites every year are labs and golden retrievers.

-- Which is not to say that labs and goldies are vicious. Even if you could generalize a dog by its breed, dogs are individuals. Their personalities are defined by their environments. I recently met a Rottie that had to be at least 90
pounds, named Diesel. He was a huge, lovable ball of mush. I know a Boston terrier. About five inches tall. It used to break out of its yard and nearly nip my wife's ankles while she jogged by. It ran into the street to get me once. Which one's the
vicious dog?

-- If you can't take your pit or Rottie off your property except in the two cases of vet or exile, that means you can't take it for a simple walk.

-- You also can't take it to the park. You can't take it to somebody else's house for a visit. You can't take it to be boarded at a kennel. You can't take it for a drive to the country. You can't even take it to obedience classes.

-- It's all in how you raise the dog. A pit bull that's taught to live in the house and snuggle on the couch will generally not eat your children. A pit bull that's caged outside with no room to move, nowhere sanitary to relieve itself, that's not given any positive attention, that's kicked and beaten and fed gunpowder to keep it in pain so it'll watch your meth lab -- that one probably will eat your children. There's already a way to protect people from these kinds of dogs. It's called "calling the cops."

-- Off the top of my head, I can think of five reasons dogs become aggressive. They're (a) badly bred; (b) not trained; (c) not exercised properly; (d) not socialized; and (e) mistreated by their owners. If you keep a dog in a cage all day behind a large fence, it's going to be impossible to train it, exercise it and socialize it. All of which adds up to (e). A mistreated dog becomes much more likely to eat your children. So if your purpose is to prevent kid-eatings, you're just making it much, much worse.

-- About that fence. If you have a pit bull or Rottie, and you rent an apartment, does the landlord have to build you the fence and outdoor pen?

-- If you live in a condo and you have a pit bull or Rottie, where do you build the fence? How about if you live in an apartment complex? Do you put the fence around your apartment door?

-- City Councilor Leo O. Pelletier, in an effort to be helpful, suggested that the measure could be changed so pit bulls and Rottweilers can be walked as long they're muzzled. Thanks, Leo, but it's not a perfect solution. Muzzles are mostly for short periods of low activity. Like, if you take a snappy dog to the vet, you muzzle it so it doesn't nip the vet's fingers when the vet jams medical objects into uncomfortable places. Dogs that are exercising have to pant so they can keep their bodies cool, which is hard with a muzzle on. It's sort of like asking a person to do aerobics with a pillowcase over her head. There are breathable muzzles, but they can make dogs feel vulnerable. A better solution is to promote dog training classes.

-- About those breeds. If you have a dog that's half pit bull and half poodle, is it a pit bull or a poodle?

-- If you have a dog that's three-quarters poodle and one-quarter pit bull, is it still a pit bull? How about one-eighth? What's the percentage where we're still talking about a pit bull here?

-- If you have a mastiff and boxer mix, or some kind of dog that isn't a pit bull but just looks a lot like one, is that dog now a pit bull? How about a Heinz 57 mix that you know nothing about?

-- Will this ordinance apply to all dogs, or just licensed ones? Because people who own vicious potential kid-maulers don't tend to line up at the City Clerk's office for dog licenses. Sorry to cast doubt on the reach of city government, but they just don't.

-- When you rescue a dog from Faxon or Forever Paws animal shelters and pay a nominal fee for it, isn't that technically a "sale"? Because then the shelters would be breaking the law by giving up abandoned pits and Rotties for adoption. Is that really what we want to do?

-- If it is a sale, where would these dogs go instead? Just rot for life in the shelter? Be exterminated? Given bus fare and escorted to the city limits?

-- Even if you do tweak the ordinance so the animal shelter could adopt out a pit bull or Rottweiler legally, who the hell would want one after that? Adopting one would mean building a fence and a locked pen, and not ever being able to take the damn thing for a walk. Some companion.

The councilor who's been most vocal about this bafflingly ill-conceived measure is Whitty. So I'm blaming him for it.

You, sir, stink. I came up with all the above reasons to torpedo this idea in about six and a half minutes, and I don't write ordinances for a living.

I'm not letting Casey and Kozak off the hook, either. You two should know better.

How about this to protect kids instead? Promote responsible ownership. Enforce the dog laws we already have instead of making new, unfair laws that criminalize large groups of people who might otherwise be law-abiding.

Here's how to do that. Dear public: If you know of a dog being abused or you know of a dog that's always vicious and loose, call the cops. Dear cops: Continue to take these calls seriously. Dear dog owners: Don't mistreat your dogs.

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