During a nine-year effort to lift the ban on pit bulls in Prince George's County, defenders of the breed have gone beyond the usual attempts to burnish the dog's image. The reputed mauler is no longer just a good pup and loyal pal but an oppressed minority entitled to the same civil rights protections as human beings.
During an effort to repeal the law in 2001, Adrianne Lefkowitz, regional director of the American Dog Owners Association, complained about illegal pit bulls that the county had confiscated and put to death since the ban went into effect -- 2,400 at the time. "We call it 'the holocaust,' with the little 'h,' " Lefkowitz told The Washington Post. "It's not with real people, but for dog owners, it feels that way."
(Oddly enough, when I try to say Holocaust with the little "h," the word still comes out the same, with real people in mind. But I digress.)
Her analogy did not work, and the effort failed. Now, here we go again.
Prince George's County Council member Thomas R. Hendershot (D-New Carrollton) recently proposed repealing the ban on the grounds that it was ineffective, expensive and, as his aide Patricia M. Doty put it, "animal racism."
Oppressed dogs, oppressed people -- what's the difference, right?
The proposed repeal is based in part on findings from the county's Vicious Animal Task Force Report, which concluded that the ban did not result in a decrease in complaints about pit bulls until last year and then amounted to only a 5 percent drop.
Of the roughly 27,000 calls that the county's animal control officers receive each year, about 3,000 are about pit bulls, the report said. About 1,000 of the dogs were captured last year, and 800 of them were put down.
"If you did the same thing to human beings, it would be a grotesque violation of human rights, and indeed it would be called genocide," Hendershot said. (And if you did the same thing to cows, it would be called dinner. But I forgot. Cows aren't people, just pit bulls are. Sorry.)
The county's Department of Environmental Resources, which oversees animal management, and the county police department have come out in support of maintaining and strengthening the law, not repealing it. They have seen, more than most, the grotesque violations of human rights caused by pit bull attacks -- and they aren't buying the claims of some pit bull owners that the breed is no more dangerous than, say, cocker spaniels.
No cocker spaniel ever sunk its teeth into a child's skull and proceeded to rip off the kid's face.
Rodney Taylor, a member of the vicious dog task force, said that 70 percent of the pit bulls picked up by animal management are "nice dogs." That may be true. But even if you forget about the other 30 percent that aren't so nice, pit bull lovers will admit that these dogs can be frighteningly temperamental.
Check out www.realpitbull.com, a Web site devoted to "promoting a positive image" of pit bulls by offering advice to befuddled owners.
"Help!" one wrote. "My Pit Bull keeps attacking my other dog. They have always gotten along in the past. Now I am worried my Pit Bull will start attacking me or my spouse or my children!"
A public hearing and possible vote on the repeal is scheduled for 10 a.m. Oct. 25 at the county administration building in Upper Marlboro.
For sheer scope of concern, Hendershot's legislation amounts to a veritable bill of rights for pit bulls. "No animal shall be found to be a vicious animal solely because it is of a particular breed," it reads. Moreover, no animal will be deemed vicious if the person attacked by the dog is committing a crime at the dog owner's home, trespassing or provoking the dog -- all to be determined after the attack, of course.
On the other hand, "A Pit Bull that causes injury to or kills a human being or a domestic animal without provocation shall be humanely destroyed, and the owner of such dog shall be fined up to $1,000 and may be sentenced to not more than six (6) months of imprisonment."
No cruel and unusual punishment here -- at least, not as far as the dog and its owner are concerned.