Three D.C. Council members said yesterday that they will move to increase restrictions on the ownership of pit bull terriers in the city, citing a case last week in which a District firefighter died while awaiting knee surgery two days after being knocked down by a pit bull.
Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) last spring introduced a bill that would classify all pit bull terriers in the District as "dangerous dogs." The bill, which would expand a 1988 dangerous-dog law aimed at individual animals, wasn't passed during the recent legislative session, but Schwartz said yesterday that she will press the issue again this fall.
Her sentiments have been echoed by council members Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and Sandy Allen (D-Ward 8). Allen, a co-sponsor of Schwartz's bill and chairman of the council's human services committee, said yesterday that the panel plans to hold hearings on Schwartz's bill in October.
"The tragic death of firefighter [Costello N. "Robbie"] Robinson was made all the more tragic by the fact that the dog attack could and should have been prevented," Schwartz said. At Robinson's funeral Wednesday, Graham told mourners that he would seek a ban on owning pit bulls in the District.
"It's time to end this breed in this city," Graham said.
D.C. law currently gives the mayor the power to designate an individual dog as dangerous, after giving the animal's owner the opportunity of a public hearing. If the mayor decides the dog is dangerous, its owner must confine the dog, post warning signs where the dog lives and take out liability insurance on the dog. Schwartz's bill would designate all pit bulls as dangerous.
Although investigators haven't linked Robinson's death directly to the pit bull that grabbed his leg during a fire call last week in Northwest Washington, the incident has renewed calls to crack down on the pit bulls and Rottweilers, which have become popular pets--particularly in low-income neighborhoods. The District's two animal shelters held about 2,000 pit bulls last year.
Widely publicized attacks have elicited calls for restrictions on pit bull ownership across the Washington area in recent years. The D.C. Council in April 1996 passed legislation requiring owners of pit bulls and Rottweilers to muzzle their dogs. Rottweilers later were made exempt from the requirement, and the law itself expired that year.
The Prince George's County Council voted in November 1996 to ban the ownership of pit bulls, exempting dogs already in the county. Annapolis officials last year rejected a proposal to require pit bull owners to insure, muzzle and leash their dogs and license them with police.
Foes of such measures say that pit bulls are statistically not the most dangerous dogs and that a ban would hurt many harmless animals.
"Pit bulls are just like any other dog," said Kristina Cooley, a Calvert County Humane Society volunteer.