Hearing on Alix's violations put off

Hearing on Alix's violations put off

Attorney: Lawsuit over pit bull ban coming shortly

By ETHAN SHOREY

Valley Breeze Staff Writer

ethan@valleybreeze.com

PAWTUCKET - A hearing on local resident Al Alix's alleged violation of Pawtucket's leash law and its ban on pit bulls was put off last Friday until after an anticipated lawsuit challenging Pawtucket's ban against pit bulls is decided.

Pawtucket Associate Municipal Court Judge John Gannon continued the hearing until after the conflict over the state's new law against breed-specific bans and the city's ordinance banning pit bulls is resolved "through a declaratory judgement type of action" in Superior Court. Once the parties have the decision in hand, they can come back before him, said Gannon.

Mark Morse, attorney for Alix and the Defenders of Animals, an organization that is defending the Pawtucket resident, said after last Friday's hearing that he plans to file a challenge to Pawtucket's pit bull ban within the next "week or two." That suit had not been filed as of press time, according to Alix.

Though Pawtucket officials contend that the state's new prohibition against breed-specific ordinances only refers to future ordinances, Morse said he and his legal team strongly believe that the law addresses all existing ordinances, including the one in Pawtucket, which has been in place for the past nine years.

According to an agreement made in court, Alix and his attorney have 60 days to file a lawsuit. Alix's pit bull "Chubs" will be allowed to stay at home on Harris Street during that time.

Chubs is the new face of the fight over Pawtucket's pit bull ban after Alix allowed the dog to get out of his yard three times in three days last month, prompting complaints from neighbors and citations from Pawtucket Animal Control.

Morse told The Breeze that the city will have "no defense" for its pit bull ban once the matter goes to court. The intent of state Rep. Thomas Palangio's law that was overwhelmingly passed by the Rhode Island General Assembly this year is clear, said Morse, and it negates all breed-specific ordinances, including existing ones.

Dennis Tabella, the director of Defenders the Animals who also works as director of Pawtucket's Woodlawn Community Development Corporation, said that Pawtucket officials continue to focus on the wrong issues in their fight to stop attacks by dogs.

"There are dog problems in Pawtucket that have nothing to do with pit bulls," he said. "The problems need to be resolved humanely and fairly."

Tony Pires, director of administration for Mayor Donald Grebien, said it was a Sept. 12 story in The Valley Breeze that perfectly illustrated the city's position on pit bulls. It's hard to argue with statistics that show attacks by pit bulls dropping off so dramatically after the city's 2004 ban on the breed went into effect, said Pires.

"That was the right thing to do," he said. "Now the courts will rule on our interpretation of what the legislation was. If it does apply to our ordinance, then we have to comply."

The drop-off in bites by pit bulls offers city officials a "realistic calling card" in their fight to keep the pit bull ban in place, said Pires.

Morse and Tabella said they expect a number of new laws to be put forward in next year's General Assembly session to deal with the pit bull problem "on a statewide level," which is the only level on which it should be dealt with.

Among the bills that could be put forward is one that would require mandatory spaying and neutering for all dog breeds, said Tabella. "Common sense" solutions that crack down on bad owners and landlords will have the greatest impact, said Tabella, not laws that punish responsible dog owners with good dogs.