Lawsuit brewing over Pawtucket's pit bull ban

Lawsuit brewing over Pawtucket's pit bull ban

PAWTUCKET - A local man says he may be the one to dismantle the city's pit bull ban once and for all - if he is forced to take legal action.

Life-long resident Al Alix, a Tolman High School graduate and local real estate agent, told The Breeze that city officials have asked him to get rid of his pit bull. If he doesn't, they'll move to have it taken away from him.

"Why they feel they can break the new state law is beyond me," said Alix.

The Rhode Island General Assembly this year overwhelmingly approved a bill by Providence Rep. Tom Palangio that prohibits communities from enforcing bans on specific breeds of dogs. Palangio, a dog lover, has made no secret that the bill was aimed directly at Pawtucket's pit bull ban.

City officials believe that the bill, which was sponsored on the Senate side by North Providence Sens, Frank Ciccone and Dominick Ruggerio, does not have a bearing on ordinances already enacted, such as Pawtucket's, but only on future ones.

And Palangio has conceded that Pawtucket's bill can remain in effect as long as no one from the city enforces the 2004 ban, which he previously said would likely prompt a challenge in court. Once that challenge is made, said Palangio, he believes the courts will decide that Pawtucket's pit bull ban violates state law.

In a Facebook post last Friday, Alix unleashed on city officials.

"I have violated the leash law in the city of Pawtucket and because my dog is a pit bull they want to punish him and take him away from me and my 84-year-old mom," he wrote. City officials will be in violation of the new state law if they follow through, Alix contends.

"Looking like I will be fighting City Hall," he wrote. "Pawtucket, you are not above the law."

Alix told The Breeze he has already contacted officials from the Rhode Island ACLU, who have indicated an interest in his case but have asked for more documentation. If that step doesn't go anywhere, said Alix, he plans to go straight to Palangio to see what help he and others in the General Assembly can give him in fighting the city.

Alix freely admits that he violated Pawtucket's leash law when he allowed his pit bull, Chubs, to escape from his yard three straight nights earlier this month. He said that while he was using the bathroom, Chubs "wandered off into the street."

Alix said he subsequently noticed small yard items like decorative rabbits showing up in his yard. The items appeared to have been mangled somewhat by Chubs. When he realized the items belonged to his long-time neighbor on Harris Street, he offered to buy her new ones. But the neighbor said the items had been there for decades and they had sentimental value that could not be replaced.

The neighbor subsequently filed a complaint with Animal Control Officer John Holmes, who told The Breeze he had "no choice" but to start proceedings to take the dog away. A father of three small children across the street was among other neighbors who also complained informally, according to Holmes.

Chubs is not a bad dog and his mother June loves him, said Alix. Pit bulls do not deserve their negative stigma, he said, and Pawtucket leaders "are in the minority" in thinking they should be outlawed.

Alix said he took in Chubs about 15 months ago when his daughter moved away. He has been living with his mother and Chubs during that time.

He said he and the complaining neighbor have had a series of minor run-ins over many years.

Holmes said on Sunday that he understands the emotional aspect involved with someone having to give up a dog, but said his "hands are tied" by Pawtucket's pit bull ban, which he actively supports.

From what he can tell, Alix is a "very nice guy," said Holmes, "but the fact of the matter is that the dog got loose and some of the neighbors got upset, so I had no choice." The dog "is loose quite often," added Holmes.

"Like I told Mr. Alix, we have a signed complaint, so we have to act," he said. "We have to enforce the laws of the city of Pawtucket."

Animal Control officers were aware that Chubs was living at the Alix home approximately two months prior to the complaint from Alix's neighbor, said Holmes, but he said he was under the impression at that point that Alix was planning to move the dog out of the city, so no action was taken.

Alix is due in Pawtucket Municipal Court early next month to answer the violation of the leash law, said Holmes, and it will be at that point that officials decide on further action in the matter.

Mayor Donald Grebien said Sunday that he received a call last week from Alix, a former campaign worker for the mayor's 2010 run.

Alix is concerned that city officials are taking the wrong position, said Grebien, but attorneys for the city have already said that Pawtucket officials are acting appropriately to continue enforcing the ban on pit bulls. Pawtucket officials believe pit bulls attract the wrong crowd to the city and pose a danger to the public because of how they're bred and trained.

Alix has had "three or four issues with the neighbors," said Grebien, so officials had "no other option but to remove the pit bull at this time."