Pit bull defenders bite back at NC bill that would require background checks for new owners

ablythe@newsobserver.comApril 19, 2013 

  • Dangerous dogs laws and the courts

    Public outcry over maulings by pit bulls has led some states to propose laws to restrict or ban ownership of dogs based on breeds, not the animal’s past behavior.

    Some of the laws have been challenged in the courts.

    Earlier this month, a New York court ruled: “The condemnation of an individual dog in the context of a dangerous dog proceeding solely by virtue of its breed is without any legal basis.”

    • In Maryland, though, an appeals court decision described pit bulls as “inherently dangerous” in a ruling that made landlords liable for dog bites. Legislation was introduced this session to clarify the ruling.

    • In Connecticut, legislation was proposed this year that would prohibit municipalities from passing breed-specific ordinances.

    • In Maine, lawmakers have been considering legislation that would prohibit insurance providers from breed-specific policies.

    • In Nevada, New Mexico and Rhode Island, legislation has been proposed to prohibit municipalities from enforcing breed-specific ordinances, while cities in other states are considering breed-specific rules.

    Staff writer Anne Blythe

Pit bulls might have a reputation among some as rough, gruff dogs from tough neighborhoods.

But the breed’s advocates are fiercely loyal and quick to fight back against their bad rap sheet – as Rep. Rodney Moore, a Democrat from Mecklenburg County, found out this week. Moore, a small-business consultant who has owned pit bulls, introduced a bill Tuesday that would require anyone taking ownership of the much-maligned dogs to submit to a criminal background check. The proposal also targets Rottweilers, mastiffs, chows, Perro de Presa Canarios and any “wolf hybrids.”

“I did this for a constituent,” Moore said Thursday. “It was not to vilify a breed. The reason I put background checks in was I didn’t want irresponsible people to use these types of animals illegally.”

The bill, which was co-sponsored by Rep. Larry Pittman, a Republican from Cabarrus County, was quickly sent to the House Rules committee where it is expected to be quietly euthanized. But news of the proposal had already raced across the Internet. Reaction was swift and biting.

Bless the Bullys, a Tennessee nonprofit dedicated to fighting breed-specific legislation and “restoring the image of the All-American Pit Bull Terrier,” posted an alert on its Facebook page.

NoPitBullBans.com, a website that claims to be “fighting breed-specific legislation and other radical animal-rights sponsored legislation across the United States,” posted news of the proposal Wednesday, arguing that it included “a laundry list of nanny-state requirements.”

In addition to the criminal background check, the bill would require owners to enroll in a four-hour course provided by the Humane Society or another rescue organization approved by the state Department of Insurance. The idea is to teach owners about the dog’s temperament and how to be responsible pet owners.

Owners would also have to alert the issuer of their homeowners or renters insurance policy and get a special permit from the Department of Insurance to possess a dog “belonging to an aggressive breed.”

The proposal raised hackles on neighborhood message boards and Facebook pages.

“It’s bad for people and it’s bad for dogs,” said Carmen Bannon, deputy counsel for the N.C. State Bar and the owner of three dogs adopted from shelters, one of which – according to her DNA test – is 25 percent American Staffordshire Terrier and 25 percent Bullmastiff. “It’s pretty silly that the trend nationally is to move away from breed-specific legislation, and this goes against that trend.”

She described the proposed law as “arbitrary, vague, legally suspect and a burden on the wrong people and entities.” She contends such legislation would decrease adoption and increase euthanasia. Enforcement might be difficult without expensive canine DNA testing.

Moore said his proposal started a conversation he believes is worthwhile.

“I didn’t really expect it to go anywhere here,” he said. “But it really did go a whole lot of places on the outside.”

But Bill Anderson, past president of the InterNeighborhood Council of Durham, said the legislation is both breed discrimination and a waste of resources.

Others expressed similar concerns.

“Here’s what they should do,” suggested John Emerson, a Durham retiree and the owner of Gracie, a 12-year-old half pit bull and a longtime sidekick. “Anybody who thinks there should be legislation to suppress breeds should have to go through a four-hour training course to suppress their emotions.”

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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