Pit bulls would be on the District's Most Wanted list under a proposal announced yesterday by some D.C. Council members who want to make it illegal for city residents to own the dogs.
Residents who currently own a breed of the feisty terriers would be allowed to keep their pets, but they would be required to register and license the dogs, pay an annual fee of $20 per dog, and have the animal spayed or neutered. No additional pit bulls would be allowed in the District if the council passes the bill, which will be introduced today at a legislative session.
A companion bill, also to be introduced today, would forbid owners to keep all dogs chained up. Some animal experts say chained dogs behave more aggressively. The bill also makes cruelty to animals a felony punishable by up to five years in jail or a fine of up to $25,000.
Council members Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) touted the bills at a news conference at the D.C. Animal Shelter. They were joined by the widow of a D.C. firefighter who suffered a fatal heart attack shortly after a pit bull attack and by a Columbia Heights man who was set upon by a pit bull near his home.
"I think that in the wrong hands, these dogs are lethal weapons and the legislation that we're introducing is aimed at both the dog and the human abuser," Graham said.
Chavous said communities in Southeast Washington are "inundated with pit bulls that terrorize our citizens. I'm tired of having senior citizens call my office saying they do not feel comfortable sitting on their porches or walking down the streets of their own neighborhoods because they are afraid of pit bulls."
But one pit bull owner said council members should be after owners who don't take care of their pets as opposed to targeting a particular canine breed.
Victor Chudowsky, who is coordinator of the D.C. Dog Coalition, said the proposed legislation is "unfair and is going to be ineffective."
"We're the people who feed the dogs, take them to obedience school, keep them on a leash, and if you do that with pit bulls they're just like any other dog," said Chudowsky, who owns a 2 1/2-year-old American Staffordshire terrier (a pit bull) named Cleo.
"Cleo's going to be fine under this legislation," Graham said in a separate interview. "It's not about Cleo . . . [but] the others that are bred to be violent, bred to be aggressive, bred to protect drug stashes. They do attack children, other pets and people."
Mary Healey, director of the Washington Humane Society, said she supports the legislation. "These dogs are dangerous to humans and other animals," Healey said, adding that "pit bulls are also among the most frequently and brutally mistreated of animals." She said a third of the dogs that come into the shelters are pit bulls. Most cannot be put up for adoption and are put to sleep.
Graham said that about 25 to 30 percent of the 400 dog bites reported in the past year involved pit bulls.
The council members also got an endorsement from Isaac Gourdine, a council member in Prince George's County, which has banned ownership of pit bulls. Violators there face fines of up to $1,000 and a maximum of 90 days in jail.
Gourdine said the number of attacks had "gone down tremendously" since the law took effect in 1997.
But George Whiting, chief of animal control for Prince Georges County, said it was too soon to say how effective the legislation has been.
Graham and Chavous acknowledged that enforcement of the law would rely heavily on residents reporting illegal dogs.
John Bracey, who lives in Graham's ward, said he was attacked last summer by a pit bull near his home.
Bracey said he was told a pit bull was attacking his cat. When he went to investigate, the dog "bounded across the yard, leaped over the fence" and pounced on him, biting him on his upper torso.
Bracey said he shielded himself with a trash can lid. He said the dog's owners were afraid to come to his rescue, but another neighbor struck the dog with a metal pipe until he broke off the attack.
CAPTION: At D.C. Animal Shelter, Kevin P. Chavous and Jim Graham, rear in bow tie, announce bill to outlaw pit bulls.
CAPTION: The family of firefighter Costello Robinson, who died of a heart attack after a pit bull attack, supports outlawing the dogs. From left are Sharon Robinson, Jacqueline Robinson, Fire Chaplain Stephen Short Sr. and Shirley Robinson.