$10,000 bond required to own pit bulls, rottweilers in Bessemer, PA

As of July 1, 2013, it will cost more than $10,000 to keep a pit bull or rottweiler in Bessemer, Pennsylvania.  The Bessemer Borough Council unanimously revised its 25-year-old pit bull ordinance at a special meeting this week.  Council raised the required bond to keep a pit bull or similar dog more than 6 months old from $5,000 to $10,000.

Council also raised a sliding scale of annual license fees for keeping pit bulls. They now range from $175 per year for one dog to $1,100 for three. The previous scale was $100 to $1,000 annually.  In addition, prospective owners must pay a $75 application fee to get the license. That was raised from $50.

Fines for violating the ordinance were raised from $300 to $500, but a possible 30 days in jail remains unchanged.

According to the ordinance, pit bulls are “considered dangerous animals/dogs and potentially hazardous to the community.”  Both the current and revised ordinance defines a “pit bull” as the “American Staffordshire Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, pit bull and ‘any dog that fits into the above American Kennel Club definitions, dogs displaying the majority of traits of any of the above breeds including mixed breeds and any dogs for fighting.”

The remaining sections of the ordinance remain unchanged and include prohibitions against the named breeds from running loose, detailed requirements for secure enclosures for them, a requirement they be leashed and muzzled whenever outside their enclosure, and provisions for their seizure and destruction by the borough in case of an attack.

Pennsylvania state law prohibits cities and towns from passing breed specific ordinances.  Title 3, §459-507A(c) states:

Local ordinances -Those provisions of local ordinances relating to dangerous dogs are hereby abrogated. A local ordinance otherwise dealing with dogs may not prohibit or otherwise limit a specific breed of dog.

It appears, however, that the state law was passed in the mid to late-nineties, and Bessemer’s ordinance was adopted in 1987.  Its likely that when the new state law was passed, existing laws were grandfathered in, but our friends in Pennsylvania should look into this.

In addition, in revising the breed discriminatory ordinance, the council added rottweilers to the list of dog breeds considered dangerous and potentially hazardous.  Does this 2013 amendment conflict with the existing state law?  Again, this is something that should be researched.

The ordinance had not been changed since it was adopted in 1987, and several council members said they weren’t even aware it existed until a dog complaint came up at the last meeting.

With the election of new officials, its very likely the positions of the individual council members on breed specific legislation has changed, as well, since the passing of the ordinance 25 years ago.  As such, this would be an excellent opportunity for Bessemer residents to ask the city officials to reconsider their breed discriminatory law as a whole in light of state’s position on breed specific ordinances.

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