Senate passes ban on breed-specific ordinances

Senate passes ban on breed-specific ordinances

PROVIDENCE – After hearing testimony that it's not right to target specific breeds of dogs because of an unfair reputation they may have, the Rhode Island Senate on Thursday passed legislation to bar cities and towns from implementing breed-specific bans.

“Years ago it was German Shepherds that were ‘bad’ dogs. Then it was Dobermans, then Rottweilers and today it is pit bulls,” said Rep. Thomas Palangio, of District 3 in Providence, sponsor of the legislation. “No specific breed of dog is intrinsically bad or vicious or dangerous. It is the owners or handlers than can make a certain dog vicious, but entire breeds of dogs should not be outlawed based on the way some of them are trained.”

Sen. Frank Ciccone III, a Democrat serving District 7 in Providence and North Providence, and sponsor of the mirror bill on the Senate side, agreed.

“I understand that certain kinds of dogs have come to have a certain reputation - pit Bbulls, for instance, because of things like the Michael Vick affair. But it is the people, the owners that train dogs to be vicious that is the problem, not the breed of dog," he said. "Pit bulls, in fact, can be some of the most loyal and gentle dogs you can have.”

The two sponsors said they also wanted to ensure dog owners who have contacted them with concerns about the bill that it has no impact on spaying or neutering, or requirements in that regard.

“The bill simply provides that certain breeds of dogs cannot be banned in communities, based on what is an erroneous impression about a certain breed,” said Palangio.

“People do get attacked by dogs, which is very unfortunate and I, like every other citizens, would like to see that never happen,” said Ciccone. “But it is unfair to blame the animal. Municipalities should, instead, target the people who mistreat their pets, or purposely make them vicious.”

The bills were given final approval Thursday and will now be transmitted to the governor for his consideration. If enacted, the law would take immediate effect.

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PROVIDENCE - Members of Pawtucket's House of Representatives delegation were irate last week when their colleagues overwhelmingly approved a bill they say would nix all bans on specific dogs and cats, including their city's 2004 prohibition on pit bulls.

It's a "bad bill" when Rhode Island legislators as a whole decide that they know better than local authorities on such issues, said House Rep. J. Patrick O'Neill, of Pawtucket's House District 59.

His city had an "epic problem" with people using pit bulls as "weapons" back in 2004 when leaders worked very carefully to craft an ordinance disallowing pit bulls within city limits, O'Neill told the House chamber.

How are those legislators from outside of Pawtucket who voted to nullify its pit bull ban going to answer when a major incident happens because of their decision? asked O'Neill. Are they going to say that "they knew better" than the leaders and residents of Pawtucket who pushed to have the law enacted to improve local quality of life?

"Why aren't we leaving this up to cities and towns?" asked O'Neill.

Pawtucket was dealing with an "epidemic" of people who were using pit bulls for all the wrong reasons, leading to a dangerous situation for many residents and police officers, said O'Neill, and it's "insanity" to think that House members would pass a blanket bill to return the city to that reality.

O'Neill told The Breeze last week that he was hopeful that the bill from Rep. Thomas Palangio, of Providence's District 3, would not have a Senate sponsor and would simply die as a result. But a modified version of the House bill, backed by Sen. Frank Ciccone and Sen. Dominick Ruggerio, who both serve North Providence and Providence, was set to go before the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture Tuesday afternoon, the last day of the General Assembly session, for "hearing and/or consideration."

For an update, visit www.valleybreeze.com Wednesday afternoon.

Calls to Ciccone and Ruggerio were not immediately returned.

Rep. Mary Duffy Messier, who represents House District 62 in Pawtucket and East Providence, said she too was frustrated with the 59-9 House vote in favor of banning breed-specific ordinances prohibiting dogs and cats.

Local officials took action to "keep citizens of Pawtucket safer" when they banned pit bulls and "the type of owner" who comes with them, said Messier, adding, "cities and towns should be making their own decisions."

Rep. Ray Johnston, of Pawtucket's House District 61 and a member of the Pawtucket Police Department, said he remembered witnessing a pit bull attack a city resident. If the ban on breed-specific ordinances is signed by the governor, said Johnston, the city would likely have to reinstate its policy of sending animal control officers on police raids.

Palangio said he proposed his bill because he doesn't believe it's right to target a breed when it's the owners of the dogs who are responsible for how the dogs behave. Too many dogs are being put down because of breed-specific ordinances, he said.

Though there were still questions Tuesday on whether the bill actually nullifies existing ordinances like Pawtucket's, local legislators said they've been told that it would indeed negate the local ordinance if passed.

John Holmes, Pawtucket's veteran animal control officer, told The Breeze he was surprised to see legislators make such an important decision without consulting with local officials first. The city has seen a dramatic drop in the number of pit bull attacks since 2004, said Holmes, though he didn't immediately have the numbers.

Holmes, who also provides animal control services to neighboring Central Falls, where there is also a ban on pit bulls, said that Pawtucket's law works well to protect both people and the dogs that were being bred for the wrong reasons.