A D.C. Council member and author of a measure to regulate dangerous dogs in the District told a council committee yesterday that such a law is needed because of a spate of attacks on D.C. residents by pit bulls.
"I have been a witness to attacks by the so-called pit bull dog on several persons," said council member Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6), appearing as a witness at a public hearing held by the Human Services Committee.
"My neighbor was, without provocation, viciously attacked by a pit bull on Sept. 27."
Under the bill, owners of dogs in the District that are deemed dangerous would face fines of up to $10,000 and maximum jail terms of one year if the dogs inflict serious injuries or are handled irresponsibly.
Pit bull dogs have become increasingly popular in low-income, urban areas where they are often used for protection or coercion.
In June, five attacks by pit bulls were reported in the District and, in one of the cases, a 13-year-old youth ordered his pet pit bull to attack a younger boy who had discovered the dog's hiding place. In August, a D.C. woman was bitten more than 35 times by her pit bull, which attacked her for no apparent reason.
Pit bulls include dogs of the American Pit Bull Terrier and American Staffordshire Terrier breeds, as well as related mixed-breed dogs, and are generally stocky, muscular dogs with powerful jaws.
The dogs were originally bred in England for fighting and, though considered affectionate and not overly violent by many owners, they have become notorious in the United States for attacks on people and other animals that sometimes have proved fatal.
Winter's bill, introduced in June, does not single out any breed but seeks to hold accountable owners of dogs that "have attacked people or other animals in an unprovoked manner" or have been "trained to be vicious," Winter said.
Owners would be required to register dangerous dogs and to maintain the dogs in a safe and humane environment. In addition, they would be required to have $50,000 liability insurance coverage for the animals.
If a person or a domestic animal is injured or killed by a dangerous dog, the owner would be subject to a $10,000 fine, a one-year jail sentence, or both.
Representatives of the Washington Humane Society, the D.C. Division of Animal Control, local dog owners' associations and others supported the legislation at the hearing.
Some aspects of the bill, however, such as the $50,000 insurance provision, were considered unfeasible or unenforceable by some witnesses, including Kristina Harper, chief of the animal control division.