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Alderman to withdraw pit bull bill Opponents criticized targeting single breed as dangerous dogs


Annapolis Alderman Cynthia A. Carter will withdraw a controversial bill she introduced in September to impose stringent restrictions on pit bull owners.

Carter, who co-sponsored the bill Sept. 11 with Ward 8 Alderman Ellen O. Moyer, said yesterday that she will announce the withdrawal at Monday's city council meeting. Carter, a Ward 6 Democrat, said she is backing down from the legislation because the city has been attacked for considering a law that would single out a breed of dogs.

She said Mayor Dean L. Johnson's office has received calls from as far away as California and Canada complaining about the bill, which would have required pit bull owners to be at least 25 years old, pay a $100 registration fee and carry $500,000 in liability insurance.

"I'm very upset," Carter said. "I thought I would get more support from people who would see that it's a good thing. I wasn't trying to ban the animal. [The bill] was to control irresponsible people."

Carter said she plans to introduce legislation on dangerous or vicious dogs next month that would be similar to the earlier bill but would not target a breed.

Johnson said he supported Carter's bill initially because he wanted legislation to stop dogfighting in Annapolis, which he said was becoming a problem. But as he received almost 50 e-mail messages and letters from around the country -- 75 percent of which assailed the bill -- "the thought process matured."

Johnson said he supports Carter's planned legislation and hopes it will be "something that gives the police department some additional tools in dealing with dogs."

Carter introduced the pit bull bill in response to recent attacks in Annapolis and across the state. In August, Anne Arundel County police arrested a group of men in Arnold who allegedly had trained pit bulls for fighting. In July, a pit bull chased an Annapolis apartment manager and decapitated her cat.

The incident ignited the passions of 400 people who signed a petition against pit bulls running loose in the city.

More recently, Annapolis police arrested five men and two juveniles on dogfighting charges after officers found them Tuesday in the woods behind the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on Bay Ridge Avenue with three bloody and malnourished pit bulls.

Neighbors had called police after seeing the men huddled around snarling dogs.

"I just wanted to do what's right," Carter said. "I'm concerned about public safety."

From the moment it was introduced, the bill drew criticism from Annapolis pit bull owners and national opponents of anti-pit bull legislation, who inundated city council members with angry e-mail messages.

It also sparked a contentious debate in City Hall that led to an Oct. 5 city council meeting attended by more than 50 supporters and opponents.

E. Robert Duffy, executive director of the American Dog Owners Association in Castleton, N.Y., said a member of the group's board of directors attended the meeting to protest the bill and applauded its withdrawal.

"It appears [Carter is] becoming wise in terms of the ownership of the dog being the prime resting place for responsibility and not the dog itself, not the specific breed," Duffy said yesterday.

"Why am I being burdened as an owner of a pit bull as opposed to a German shepherd owner? I think you're infringing on my constitutional rights at that point."

Frank Branchini, executive director of the Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Anne Arundel County, said he hopes the new legislation will be strong enough to curb pit bull fighting.

"These people who get all sanctimonious about how they all want [all the breeds] to be treated the same, to me, that makes little sense," he said. "I really truly believe in the deepest level of my heart that a Chihuahua that has an attitude isn't the same threat to the community than a pit bull is."

Pub Date: 12/08/98

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