Malden pit bull-owners may have gotten a compromise out of city hall last night, but many remained unhappy with new rules they say unfairly target the breed for muzzling - even while on an owner's private property.
Thanks to the deal, current residents with registered pit bulls – both purebred or mixed-breed – will receive an exemption from a new “dangerous dog” law, as well as an “exemption tag” the dog must wear at all times.
Thereafter, the city will require all new and visiting pit bulls be muzzled while outdoors, unless they are confined in a fenced-in area on private property.
The ordinance, as originally proposed, would've required all pit bulls be muzzled outdoors within city limits.
The amended proposal passed in a 7-4 vote.
Kinnon defends his proposal
Proponent Councilor Neil Kinnon said the change would protect residents from vicious dogs and deter other pit bull owners from bringing their pets - which he said were disproportionately likely to bite - into the city.
Of the 57 canine bites reported to the city since 2009, 18 have been attributed to pit bull or pit bull-mixes, animal control officer Kevin Alkins said. 11 other breeds accounted for 14 bites, and mutts accounted for the remaining 25.
About 6.7 percent of the dogs registered in the city are pit bulls, Kinnon said.
“That's 6.7 percent...(making) 32.5 percent of all the bites,” Kinnon said. “Based on those statistics we get 23 bites bites from every 100 pit bulls...for the remaining dogs, that would be about 3.5 per every 100.”
"Let's not lose sight of the fact that statistics tell us something," he said, emphasizing the new rules would not place such restrictions on residents already owning the breed.
Opponents bite back
Opponents, including Lt. Alan Borgal of the Center for Shelter Dogs and Kara Holmquist from the Massachusetts Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said that breed-specific legislation was often hard to enforce, relied on a poor understanding of genetic breeding distinctions and was unfair to breeds they said are often singled out for legislative attention.
Oftentimes, a dog that appears to be a pit bull is shown to be another breed under strict genetic criteria, and mixed breed dogs can have any number of other species in their pedigree, Ornquist told the council.
“There's simply aren't any scientific studies that show (this breed-specific law) will reduce dog bites,” she said.
Councilor Barbara Murphy, who voted against the ordinance, noted that all of the dog bite incidents reported to the city involved an off-leash dog, arguing the city should work on enforcing laws already on the books to protect citizens from dangerous dogs.
The ward 8 councilor also offered an amendment that would allow dog-owners to keep their pit bulls on a leash in their backyard, though it failed in a 3-8 vote.
“If I walk out the back door, and the dog is on a leash and there is no fencing in my particular yard, I'm going to have to put a muzzle on him...just to walk the dog to go to the bathroom in their own backyard,” she said. “Most people without fences don't just let their dog run in the backyard.”