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Wilkes-Barre, PA: Dog owners, experts growl at proposed vicious breed ban
Posted on July 6, 2009 by stopbslcom
Previous alert and contact information for Wilkes-Barre lawmakers: Wilkes-Barre, PA: City to ask legislature for ability to pass BSL Stop BSL

Dog owners, experts growl at proposed vicious breed ban - News - Citizens Voice

Dog owners, experts growl at proposed vicious breed ban
By Nicholas Sohr (Staff Writer)

Published: July 4, 2009

Wilkes-Barre's renewed effort to crack down on "vicious" dog breeds in public areas is too much bark and not enough bite when it comes to the real offenders, local dog experts and owners said Friday.

"Sometimes these things are fear driven," said Cindy Stark, a member of the governor's Dog Law Advisory Board and shelter manager for the Luzerne County chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "I understand legislators and heads of municipalities are concerned for the safety of their citizens. But the bottom line is the owners are responsible for their animals."

Indeed, other advocacy groups and owners of the dogs whose breeds are consistently labeled "vicious" or "dangerous" agreed with Stark's assessment.

Arden Fahey, an accountant from Wilkes-Barre, adopted her pit bull Gunner in early 2005. A college student renting a room in Fahey's parents' apartment building left the puppy behind when her parents wouldn't let her take it home.

"I understand a lot of people's fear," Fahey said. "But if there's a problem with a specific person who has that breed, or a particular dog is causing a problem, then you have to address it. There's a lot of people who are not responsible dog owners."

Gunner, Fahey said, has never been a problem for her three children, ages 11, 10 and 7, and even tolerates the other residents in the house, including dogs, guinea pigs, rabbits and a hamster.

"It's the way you train the dog, she said. "Granted, there are a lot of things that are bred into dogs. But it comes down to how you train a dog."

Susan LaMontagne, of Swoyersville, pointed to the dogs rescued from property owned by former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, who pleaded guilty in 2007 to dog fighting charges.

"Look at the Michael Vick dogs," she said. "Those were dogs that were fighters and they were retrained and now they're living with families with little children.

"There are no bad dogs, just bad owners. So why punish responsible owners by banning an entire breed?"

LaMontagne's Bear, a 2-year-old American Staffordshire Terrier - one of several breeds known as pit bulls - is more of a "licker" than a fighter, as the stereotype goes.

"Years ago, I would have been the first to say 'ban them,'" she said. "Then I fostered one and I fell in love with them."

City officials argue any breed-specific laws would only be a part of their effort to ensure the safety of residents and visitors in public areas.

"It's a great theory," City Administrator J.J. Murphy said of the nurture over nature contention. "But in reality, we've got a very dangerous situation here."

The city's push, announced Wednesday by Mayor Tom Leighton, follows a much publicized incident in the River Common. A man's leashed dog was attacked by two loose dogs and injured so severely it had to be euthanized.

"With the influx with all these vicious dogs, the next thing that's going to happen is it's going to be a child," Murphy said. "We're trying to be proactive. With all due respect to all these dog-lovers who think (some breeds are) not a very vicious dog, I have to disagree."

Blanche Williams, of Wilkes-Barre, has already had enough. In December 2003, her 2-year-old pug named Cuddles was killed on her front porch by a pit bull that escaped its owner's leash.

"I just turned around and I saw his ugly face at the bottom of the steps," Williams said. "And before I could get her up in the house, he was up and at her, like it was his duty. My little dog didn't have a chance.

"They're born to kill. I'm sorry. That's how I feel about them. They're bred to kill."

Murphy said the city officials hope to increase fines for owners who break leashing and other dog laws.

The American Kennel Club, one of the loudest voices decrying "breed specific" laws, advocates laws that "judge the deed, and not the breed."

The club recommends towns take action only against specific animals and their owners using a tiered system to determine if dogs are dangerous, or could be dangerous, based on the severity of their transgressions.

"I think that politicians think that banning a certain breed sounds good. It sounds like definitive action," club spokeswoman Daisy Okas said Thursday. "You're punishing the responsible people who own dogs and don't cause a problem."

Leighton has tried twice before to institute restrictions on "dangerous dogs."

In 2001, when Leighton was a member of city council, he pushed to ban pit bulls, Rottweilers, German shepherds and Doberman Pinschers from city parks after authorities shot a pit bull during a raid at a Woodward Street home.

A state law stymied the measure because it prevents municipalities from enacting laws that single out dogs based solely on breed.

In 2005, Leighton pushed new legislation to ban pit bulls from the entire city. He was backed by police officials, who said the dogs were often kept by criminals, and were a danger to police officers. The effort was thwarted by the same state law.

City officials plan to meet with state legislators after the state budget is approved.

"We just can't sit idly by and know that we have a bad situation here," Murphy said.

[email protected], 570-821-2052
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