The small town of Middlebourne, West Virginia has been discussing the issue of “vicious dogs” running at large, and at the last city council meeting, an ordinance was proposed that targets “pit bulls” and rottweilers. The proposal gives the town the power to “police the quartering and control of dogs within the corporate limits. “ The ordinance calls for all dogs to be registered and taxed at the County Assessor’s office, and that all dangerous and/or vicious dogs be assessed as such. The proposed ordinance automatically declares pit bulls and rottweilers as vicious dog, but affords all other dogs the opportunity to be declared vicious by their past behavior.
The fines proposed in the initial draft were “not less than $5 nor more than $100” for violating any of the provisions of the ordinance, and “not less than $500 nor more than $3000” for a violation resulting in injury. However, Councilwoman Sue Pelikan stated that she’d done extensive research on this issue, and advised the council of the number of deaths and injuries her “research” claimed was attributed to “pit bulls.” She proposed changing the fines to higher amounts to deter and hold dog owners accountable.
While City Attorney Gary Rymer felt the draft language with respect to fines was sufficient and that it adequately addressed the responsibility of control by dog owners, he did voice his concern that there is no way to enforce the ordinance. Mayor Delauder also expressed his concerned about how to enforce the ordinance.
Despite this, after discussing the ordinance further, Pelikan suggested significantly raising the fines, and she was adamant in her demand that pit bulls and rottweilers be muzzled when out of their enclosures. The council ultimately amended the proposed ordinance to include the stiffer fines and the muzzle language.
Despite the concerns raised that the proposal was unenforceable, the first reading of the ordinance was held and passed unanimously.
While we certainly agree that any animal control ordinance must hold ALL owners to a high degree of responsibility, the targeting of certain breeds has been proven time and again to NOT correct the problems that communities experience with irresponsible dog owners. Dangerous dogs are the result of reckless and careless owners, neither of which have anything to do with the breed of dog in question. Dogs (and their owners) should be judged on their individual behaviors and actions – not swept into a group dictated by stereotypes, media hype and misinformation.
According to the 2013 census, Middlebourne is a town of approximately 800 people. Surely in a town of this size, it is much more appropriate, fair and quite frankly, easy, to identify and target the dog owners who are causing problems in the community rather than force good dog owners to adhere to discriminatory measures simply based on the appearance of their dogs. It is the duty of governmental leaders to pass and enforce laws that protect their citizens, and breed specific laws do not achieve this because they only address owners of certain (or perceived) breeds of dogs, thus allowing the true problem dog owners (who don’t happen to have a dog that meets the appearance language of the ordinance), to get a free pass and continue with their irresponsible behavior and endanger the community.
Councilwoman Pelikan told her fellow council members that she wants the town to have an ordinance that requires dog owners to take responsibility and control there dogs. If that is truly her intent, removing the breed specific language from the proposed ordinance will help achieve that without punishing good dog owners or infringing on their property rights because it will allow whoever is ultimately tasked with enforcing the law to focus on the root of the problem – the dogs actually endangering the community by their behavior and actions, and their irresponsible owners allowing it to happen.
Please reach out to the Middlebourne town officials and encourage them to hold irresponsible and reckless dog owners accountable for the actions of their dogs regardless of the breed they own. Provide them with information on the failures of breed specific legislation and the number of cities across the country that have repealed their discriminatory policies in favor of breed-neutral laws. Ask them to remove the breed specific language in the current proposal and replace it with breed-neutral language that affords EVERY dog the opportunity to be judged on his or her individual behavior, as well as targeting the owners who allow their dogs, regardless of breed, to cause problems in the community.
As noted above, Middlebourne is a very small town and has virtually no online presence. You can fax (or snail mail) your polite and respectful letters to city hall with a request to please forward to the mayor and each council member before the next council meeting.
Town of Middlebourne
100 Main Street
Middlebourne, WV 26149