Pawtucket Animal Control Officer Says Pitbull Ordinance Will Protect Dogs, Owners

Woonsocket Animal Control Officer says just talk about the law has improved situation in city.


Enforcing a pitbull ordinance like Pawtucket's will require money Woonsocket doesn't have and General Assembly approval, but police and animal control officials said it would be a step in the right direction. 

From the start of Monday night's City Council work session on a proposed pitbull ordinance taken from Pawtucket's, that city's Animal Control Officer John Holmes said that while other dogs bite, it's the pitbulls that are the problem in his city.

"You're always going to get your dog bites," Holmes said, "But it's the bite of the pitbull. It really is."

Woonsocket Police Captain Michael Lemoine said it was the same in Woonsocket. "This is the breed that causes the city and the police the most problems," Lemoine said.

Lemoine said that although there isn't enough money to hire the number of staffers Pawtucket has, "I think it's enforceable. As long as we're committed, it'll just take a little more time," he said.

Woonsocket Police Chief Thomas Carey agreed. "There's a problem and we need to get something in place to solve it," he said. Having the law in place will help by itself, he said.

Woonsocket Animal Control Officer Doris Kay also agreed, noting there are people flocking to city hall to register their dogs since word of the proposed law started circulating.

The most serious dog attacks, including one suffered by Kay, involve pitbulls. 

"We're not having a major problem with rottweilers," said Kay. "It's always the pitbull, pitbull, pitbull."

She said right now, the city pound has 13 cages, and nine of them have pitbulls in them. There are so many pitbulls taken in by the pound from irresponsible owners, she said that they haven't got resources left to care for regular strays.

Outside City Hall, about 20 people, including families and children, stood on the sidewalk holding signs proclaiming, "We love our family pets," and "They are our family" for drivers of passing cars to see. Several drivers honked as they passed, the sound carrying to the second floor conference room where the working session was held.

City Councilman Roger Jalette seemed to be in the demonstrators' corner. "I think it is wrong for us to use the Pawtucket legislation to put out breed-specific legislation," Jalette said.

But, Mayor Leo Fontaine said, "I saw the police reports and I heard at the time on the radio what was going on when she (Kay) was attacked," which gave her an out to leave, he said. "But she came back."

"I am not against pitbulls," Kay said, "Even though I've been bit, I love dogs." But, she said, "It's getting dangerous."

Fontaine said that though there are many responsible pitbull owners in the city, irresponsible owners, including some people the police visit often, are not treating the dogs well and training them to be violent, which puts officers in jeopardy. "It's a dangerous situation," Fontaine said, when a single officer responds to a call and finds himself surrounded by pitbulls.

The pound isn't full of akidos right now. It's not full of shepherds. It's not full of labs," Fontaine said.

City Councilman Bob Moreau, a Woonsocket Policeman for 23 years, agreed. "I have never gone to any other dog bite call," except for pitbulls, Moreau said. He said on one of his last days as an officer, "I witnessed a pitbull literally tearing a seeing eye dog apart," while the blind man with the dog was forced to stand by as good Samaritans came to his dog's aid, striking the pitbull several times to stop the attack. "That dog would not let go," Moreau said, "It was one of the worst things I've seen as a police officer." He said he's never been on a call for any other breed of dog in more than two decades.

Holmes said that since Pawtucket's pitbull-specific legislation was passed, the number of pitbulls in their pound has decreased. "We were euthanizing 15 pitbulls a week," he said. With the pitbull law, he said, they've only taken custody of 84 pitbulls since January, and only had to euthanize three of those.

The law cuts down on irresponsible pitbull ownership, he said, because it encourages them to spay and neuter the dogs, which reduces their numbers, and keeps people who just want to breed and use the dogs irresponsibly out of Pawtucket. He said with the law, people who own pitbulls just to breed and sell them as attack dogs don't stay in the city.

The law also provides for fines as high as $1,000, though most are between $25 and $50, he said. Fines higher than $500 did require General Assembly approval, he said.

But, he said, his department enforces it with about eight staffers to Woonsocket's two, and the judges in the city back them up. "Don't put the law in, if you're not going to enforce it," Holmes said.

"People can walk down the streets of Pawtucket and not worry about being attacked," Holmes said.

City Council President John Ward said the proposed ordinance will require changes to fit Woonsocket's needs. Also, he pointed out that if they followed Pawtucket's lead, the city would need the approval of the General Assembly.

The ordinance, introduced for the first time last Monday night by City Council President John Ward, would ban anyone who does not already own a pitbull from acquiring one, require muzzles on existing dogs and require owners to take out $100,000 liability insurance policies on their animals. It would also require a sign warning others that a dangerous dog is kept there, and call for pitbulls to be put down if discovered in violation of the law, or moved outside the city (see attached .pdf). 

Moreau suggested formally inviting the city's General Assembly representatives, which Ward said was a good idea. 

After the meeting, Harry Parker, owner of Dynamic Dog Training in Warwick and an opponent of the ordinance, who was sporting a photo of "his kids and their pitbull, said he wasn't swayed by anything said at the meeting. "No. Not at all. Not at all. Breed specific legislation is wrong." 

Another opponent of the proposed ordinance, Matther Desilets, had a poster he used to demonstrate the difficulty of identifying pitbulls without DNA testing. 

Kay said if a pitbull owner runs afoul of the law, the owner will be given an opportunity to prove their dog isn't really a pitbull. She said that any dog could be subject to the city's vicious dog law, but that is triggered by an attack. "This is a pre-emptive strike," she said, to regulate pitbulls to prevent them from attacking people.

The next meeting on the issue will be a public forum Nov. 5. 

Matthew Desilets October 24, 2012 at 10:35 PM
I apologize I found more up to date information on the ATT site my number did place them a bit higher percentage than current day. # tested # passed #failed %passed American Pit Bull Terrier 839 728 111 86.8% American Staffordshire Terrier 646 544 102 84.2% Staffordshire Bull Terrier 124 112 12 90.3% Rottweiler 5545 4,652 893 83.9% vs Golden Retriever 776 661 115 85.2% German Shepherd Dog 3133 2,651 482 84.6% Greyhound 66 54 12 81.8% Labrador Retriever 783 723 60 92.3% This shows that the average pitbull is no more agressive than most dogs please look at the results yourself at http://atts.org/breed-statistics/statistics-page1/
Andie October 25, 2012 at 03:42 AM
Elizabeth, herein lies the problem with ordinances like this, you say right here that AmStaffs should not be included but there are clear differences in temperament to those bred to fight... AmStaffs are included, lumped together with this mismanaged abused line of fighting dogs. As far as this ordinance and ordinances like it are concerned AmStaffs ARE pitbull type dogs
p mcwilliams October 27, 2012 at 08:00 AM
your "facts are screwed up and your remarks show it. you do not have an understanding of the whole picture as it probably hasnt real affected you personally- but is easy to go on about.
p mcwilliams October 27, 2012 at 08:05 AM
good book also "the lost dogs" and " I'm a good dog" by ken foster. both score for the fact that its the person not the dog- these books score how sa many dogs terribly mistreated love being g=family dogs - and are because they are treated right. ANYONE letting their dog run loose should be ARRESTED and fined, hold the dog, big deal- GET THE OWNER. from the sounds of the size of the problem Woonsocket Could make a fair amount of $$ off this- maybe even hire another shelter person. you can head the fight up for resolution or down into the depths never ending always blaming.
Obilix Johannasen February 27, 2013 at 05:15 PM
You have a people problem not a dog breed problem. I'm sure if they could eliminate or ban certain races of people, they would. Create legislation that assures only responsible owners can keep breeds that invoke fear in police and criminals.


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