Terrell County, Georgia passed restrictions on “pit bulls” in January 2012 in response to a single incident involving sheep killed by loose dogs. County Commissioners claimed the breed specific ordinance was passed to increase public safety. In fact, this is the claim made by all elected officials in their pursuit of a breed specific law. In considering a breed specific ordinance, there is certainly no shortage of shocking “statistics” and media reports regarding dog bites available to officials. Unfotunately, a generous portion of this information is manipulated or simply false. More often than not, the wrong breed is identified by the media and specific, crucially important circumstances leading up to an attack are left untold. Moreover, the complete lack of personal accountability in society today leaves only a breed to be vilified.
Instead of being the solution to animal control problems, BSL not only fails to reduce dog bites and create safer communities, it creates new problems. As with most communities that pass a breed specific ordinance, Terrell County has been plagued with more problems since passing their “pit bull” ordinance, not less.
Consistent with all the news generated on this issue since January 2012, a December 27, 2012 news report confirms the Terrell County ordinance was passed due to the sheep attack. However, it then contradicts that statement by indicating the law was passed due to ” a series of attacks.” I have yet to find any reports or news articles out of Terrell County that would support the county had a “pit bull” problem.
In April 2012, WALB published a news story indicating that to date, very few “pit bull” owners had registered their dogs or otherwise complied with the new ordinance. Rather, the county saw an increase in stray dogs because people who could not comply with the ordinance simply set their dogs loose or surrendered them. Of course, this led to the much larger problem of the small animal shelter being inundated with dogs.
These problems persist, almost a year after the ordinance was passed. While a representative of the Humane Society reports that the ordinance has cut back on incidents which, as noted above, were non-existent, residents are still not complying with the law. In addition, the ordinance has led to a much bigger problem of too many pit bulls, with nowhere to go, and a small shelter unable to afford their upkeep.
Despite all this, the county intends to enforce an ordinance that is not working to maintain the safety and welfare of the community. Quite simply, more stray dogs in a community means a greater risk of negative dog incidents. Several news articles have reported that residents actually feel less safe since the passing of the ordinance.
According to a Humane Society representative, they are trying to place the abandonned dogs into good homes. Unfortunately, the print article misquotes the rep, reporting she claimed rehoming the dogs was a difficult undertaking because they are “such a vicious breed.” In the video news footage, however, the rep actually said the dogs are “considered such a vicious breed.” Obviously, to those whose only access to the article was in the print version, the damage is done. The mistake on the part of the media outlet will only feed the unwarranted hysteria that surrounds the breed.
Areas looking at passing a breed specific ordinance would do well to study and learn from the mistakes of Terrell County. BSL is not the answer to animal control problems. Educating residents on responsible dog ownership and strictly enforcing existing laws are the keys to an animal control ordinance that benefits ALL members in a community – humans and animals alike.