After pit bulls' attack on officer, other incidents, forum planned
DESOTO – Earlier this year, two pit bulls attacked and bit a DeSoto police officer. And in another case, a pit bull escaped from its yard and trapped some neighbors in their home, forcing authorities to take drastic action.
"He got on their porch and wouldn't let them leave. We had to shoot that one, and we've had to shoot several others," said DeSoto police Capt. Ron Smith. "Unfortunately, the number of calls is increasing, and it usually involves pits.
"For some reason, that breed is more susceptible to bad training or breeding, and can easily become an aggressive dog."
Because of the recent spate of canine aggressiveness, city leaders plan to take another look at DeSoto's animal ordinance – which could lead to banning certain breeds, officials say.
But first, they want to hear what residents think.
REX C. CURRY / Special to DMN
This German shepherd at the Tri-City Animal Shelter in Cedar Hill was found roaming loose in DeSoto. "Rather than jump in and try to make changes to our ordinance, the council decided it would be worthwhile to have a forum for the community to come forward and talk about dogs," said City Manager Jim Baugh.
"We want to know what they like or don't like about dogs, whether it's chasing cars or digging under fences, or whether they would like us to consider banning certain breeds from the city."
One possibility at the Dec. 7 session could be the banning of all large dogs.
City leaders acknowledge that prospect could raise questions.
"Do you ban all dogs over 50 pounds?" asked Mayor Michael Hurtt. "Because then you've got the Old English sheepdog who's never bitten anyone."
The mayor acknowledged, though, that his personal concern is pit bulls, which include several breeds, such as the American pit bull terrier and Staffordshire bull terriers.
"Unfortunately, the complaints I've heard are pretty specific to pit bulls," Mr. Hurtt said. "We've heard from so many residents the last couple of years who have been bothered by them."
The problem lies more with the owners than the dogs, Capt. Smith said. He's seen pit bulls, as well as Rottweilers and other breeds commonly perceived as vicious, that are very social and friendly.
"If you mistreat them or train them to be aggressive, then it causes problems," he said.
Mr. Hurtt said vicious-dog problems in DeSoto go back as far as November 1993, when a female Rottweiler killed a 5-year-old child after digging out of its pen.
Pit bulls have been banned in Denver since 1989. Miami and Cincinnati followed with bans, and last year Ontario became the first Canadian province to prohibit pit bulls. Richardson passed an ordinance restricting ownership of the dogs in 1987, but it was struck down two years later by a Dallas appeals court.
DeSoto officials also may face legal roadblocks if they try to ban pit bulls or any specific breed.
"They can't do it under state law. They can only regulate the behavior, not the breed," said Jay Sabatucci, regional program manager for the Humane Society of the United States.
Mr. Sabatucci said that under Texas' Health and Safety Code, cities are allowed to regulate the handling of vicious or dangerous dogs, regardless of the breed.
"The Humane Society does not encourage specific breed legislation," Mr. Sabatucci said. "It's just bad law."
In recent years, increased growth in DeSoto has resulted in smaller yards and people living closer together, Mr. Hurtt said, and that can magnify any pet problems. Barking dogs and canines running loose in neighborhoods are among the complaints he's hearing more often, he said.
"In the area I live in, there is an apartment across the street with a family that has three pit bulls living in the apartment," said Mr. Hurtt, whose last two dogs lived 13 and 16 years. "I love animals, I believe in animals, but we've grown from a small community to a larger city, and it's time we had a discussion."
Other options officials may consider include limiting the number of animals in a specific space.
"We don't want to have some knee-jerk reaction to the people that scream the loudest," Mr. Hurtt said. "We want to know if this is a widespread problem or if people are OK with our ordinance."
The current DeSoto animal ordinance is relatively common, with such standard requirements as leashes and vaccinations.
Eight-year DeSoto resident Joe Pickens recently acquired two part chow, part pit bull puppies. He said responsible ownership is the key to raising safe dogs.
"I keep mine in the house or in the back yard, where I have a big board so they can't dig out," Mr. Pickens said. "They shouldn't ban a breed, just single out the dogs that are problems."
Cynthia Birl doesn't have any pets but sees no reason to change the city's animal ordinance. She's more concerned about the coyotes in her neighborhood than the dogs, which she said haven't caused her any problems since she moved to DeSoto 10 months ago.
Mr. Baugh hopes attendance at next month's meeting includes people with all sorts of dog concerns, both good and bad.
"We want to hear from people who have an issue and people who like the way we're doing things," Mr. Baugh said. "We need to hear from everybody."