Howard County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, responding to growing concern over the care and handling of pit bull terriers, said he was planning to introduce legislation this week allowing the county to destroy dogs that attack or injure another pet or a person and to impose stiff penalties on their owners.
Although the law would not apply exclusively to pit bulls, Gray said he wrote the legislation with those dogs in mind because they often are trained to use their powerful jaws to attack.
At a meeting of the Animal Matters Hearing Board this week, Gray and other officials said that publicity about the violent temperament of the breed had given pit bulls a reputation as "the Rambo of the dog family."
One resident, Gordon A. Christensen, told the board that his wife had to give up the day care center she ran at their home after three parents withdrew their children in part because they feared the pit bull that lived next door would escape.
A pit bull owner, Kevin Burton, said such fears were unwarranted and that a pit bull won't attack unless it is trained to do so.
The bill would require owners of pets that the county animal control officer has declared to be a threat because of their breeding or behavior to register the animals with the county, enroll them in obedience training classes, muzzle them during walks, obtain insurance to cover liability up to $100,000, and house the pet indoors or an approved doghouse.
Residents who violate the ordinance risk having their pets confiscated and being fined up to $1,000. If a dog that has been declared dangerous by an animal control officer attacks another pet or a person, its owner could be fined $1,000 and sentenced to 30 days in jail and the animal control office could destroy the animal. The owner also would have to pay medical bills incurred during an attack.
Of the 140 dog bites reported this year, it is not known how many were inflicted by pit bulls, according to health department officials.
In 1983, a 5-year-old boy underwent cosmetic surgery on his scalp after he was attacked by three pit bulls, according to Animal Control Officer John Garrity.
Garrity said 16 pit bulls are registered in the county, and that two have caused problems.