Bluefield’s Board of Directors authorized the city’s attorney Tuesday to start drafting an ordinance that would ban pit bulls from the city.
Bluefield currently has an ordinance regulating the ownership of pit bulls; however, too many owners are not complying with it, Mayor Linda Whalen said.
In a recent incident, Bluefield’s animal control officer, Randell Thompson, was seriously injured and hospitalized for several days after being bitten by a pit bull, according to information released by Chief D.M. Dillow Jr. of the Bluefield Police Department.
The proposed ordinance would allow current owners who are following the existing ordinance to keep their pit bulls, said City Attorney Brian Cochran. They would have 10 days after the ordinance is enacted to comply with the current law. After that time period ends, no more pit bulls would be allowed into the city.
“It’s especially a public safety issue. It’s something that we as a municipal government can do to help protect our kids and other citizens throughout the city, and that’s the whole point of it,” Cochran said. “There are probably some responsible owners of pit bulls out there, but there are a lot who aren’t very responsible. We have pretty stringent laws in the books, but they don’t seem to be working very well.”
The current ordinance requires the owners of pit bulls and wolf hybrids to keep them muzzled and on a secure leash when they are taken out of their homes. They must be kept indoors or in a securely locked, enclosed pen or kennel with a secured top attached to all of its sides, Cochran said. The dogs must also be registered with the Bluefield Police Department.
Local pit bull owners were allowed to start complying with the law in 2008 when the current ordinance was passed. It covers pit bulls as well as Staffordshire bull terriers and American pit bull terriers, Cochran said.
Owners of these breeds can now register their pets with the city police and begin complying with the current ordinance. City Manager Jim Ferguson said later that residents could read this ordinance at the Bluefield Municipal Building. People should ask to speak with the city clerk or the city’s code enforcement officer.
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals recently upheld a ban on pit bulls and pit bull breed dogs enacted by the city of Ceredo in 1996.
“Basically, they based it on safety, public health, and those type of police power issues that municipalities are authorized to pass ordinances for,” Cochran told the city board.
Ceredo did not have any prior pit bull ordinance when its ban was enacted. The city’s residents were given 10 days to register their pit bulls with the city, sign a release and liability waiver with the city.
“I think we’re in the position where the city, based on some recent events and some past events, should consider passing a similar ordinance,” Cochran said. “We do have ordinances on the books that require owners of pit bulls to register them with our police department.”
The city has the option to ban any pit bull that is not currently registered with the city police. To be more consistent with the ordinance that was upheld by the state Supreme Court, the city could give pet owners 10 days after a new ordinance was enacted to register their pit bulls. Pit bulls that are not compliant with the law could be seized by the municipal court.
Cochran said after Tuesday’s meeting that he might have a draft pit bull ban ordinance ready for the city board’s next meeting on March 26.
Animal Control Officer Randall Thompson was bitten March 6 when he answered a call about a pit bull that was running loose on Wayne Street, according to information released from an incomplete report Thompson is writing. After Thompson and the dog’s owner got the animal back into its yard, a second pit bull that was there broke its chain and bit Thompson on both arms. He was recently released from a local hospital. Both pit bulls were picked up and taken to the Mercer County Animal Shelter. What will be done with the dogs has not been determined.
Some owners of dogs related to the breed most people consider when they hear the term “pit bull” want to know whether their dogs would be included in a new ordinance, said Shannon Young, 27, of Bluefield. Her family owns a bully pit dog that is smaller than the other breed, which is considered a game dog bred for hunting.
“It (bully pit bull) is more of a show dog than what would be considered a normal pit bull,” Young said to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph after learning about the proposed ban on the newspaper’s website. “They’re show dogs.”
The game pit bull is larger than the bully pit breed, she said.
In the past, other breeds of dog have been labeled as vicious, she recalled. In the 1970s, doberman pinschers were considered especially dangerous.
“In the 80s, they hated great danes,” Young said. “They would talk about how vicious they are. It’s not the dogs; it’s the owners of the dogs. If you raise them to be aggressive monsters, any dog can be aggressive.”
Board of directors looks to draft ordinance to prohibit the dog breed in Bluefield
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