Garland County, Arkansas considering ordinance targeting specific breeds

In the wake of the fatal mauling of a child by a bullmastiff, officials in Garland County, Arkansas are considering an ordinance that targets specific breeds of dogs. Justice of the Peace Mickey Gates is crafting the ordinance that will not ban any specific breeds, but does list potentially dangerous breeds and require owners to adhere to restrictions in order to keep their dogs.

Even as the ordinance is being drafted, JP Gates concedes that his proposal would not have helped the child who was mauled in the home of a family friend. He insists, however, the new rules will provide recourse when owners don’t secure dogs capable of vicious attacks by issuing citations to the owners and making them “explain to a judge why they’ve failed to maintain control of their dog.”

The animal control problems Garland County is experiencing are not new. The issue of a breed ban was brought up in August 2012. County officials reached out to the community for input, and held public forums in that regard. Most of those who addressed the Justices of the Peace at these forums urged the county to prosecute irresponsible pet owners and not ban any specific breed of dog from the county. A committee was also formed to research the matter.

In November 2012, Justice of the Peace Mary Bournival announced that the Garland County Quorum Court would consider an amendment to the county’s vicious dog law at its meeting in January 2013. The committee, which was comprised of “interested, knowledgeable people,” helped develop the proposed amendment, and many of the changes were developed through the use of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s study titled “A Community Approach to Dog Bite Prevention” which discusses “responsibility by owners and how a community could come together and put together an ordinance for their community.”

Moreover, at that time, JP Bournival stated that all the research the committee gathered indicated that laws banning specific breeds of dogs are “ineffective,” and that enacting a breed ban after an attack would have been a hurried, emotional response that would not have addressed the underlying problems that lead to dog attacks.

As acknowledged by Mr. Gates, his proposal would not have prevented the fatal attack of a child that occurred in the home of a family friend. However, education on responsible ownership and dog bite prevention would lay the extremely important groundwork for safer interactions between humans and canines, whether those interactions are on public or private property. Responsible dog owners should not be penalized or singled out based simply on the breed (or perceived breed) of dog they own.

Please send your polite, respectful and informative opposition to breed specific legislation to the Garland County officials listed below. Please also include viable alternatives in the form of strong, breed-neutral ordinances for their consideration.  As always, in reaching out to any public official, keep in mind that you are representing responsible dog owners as a whole.  I cannot stress the importance of maintaining professional and respectful communications with officials at all times. 

The research has already been done in Garland County, and the community has previously spoken on this issue. Please encourage the Justices of the Peace to take all the information gathered into consideration and not make a hasty decision based on emotion.  Please also try to refrain from using form letters.  Last year, JP Bournival openly criticized the number of form letters she received, and admitted to deleting them upon reading the first few lines.  ALL the facts, statistics and data are on our side.  Pick a few talking points and add your own feelings on the issue.  Your letters need not be long and detailed explanation as to why you don’t support breed bans and, in fact, the more concise the letter, the better.   

Garland County Quorum Court Justices of the Peace
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