The Prince George's County Council, after three hours of often emotionally charged testimony, decided yesterday to maintain the county's nine-year-old ban on ownership of pit bulls.
Without debate, the council voted 8 to 1 against amending the county's vicious dog law to rescind the ban. Thomas R. Hendershot (D-New Carrollton), the bill's sponsor, was the only council member to vote in favor.
Prince George's enacted the ban in 1996 after a series of pit bull attacks, complaints about dogs wandering the streets and reports of young men pitting their dogs against each other for money, drugs or social status. Pit bulls captured by the county's animal control officers are put in a shelter and later euthanized.
Hendershot said the ban has been a failure that has done little to protect the county from dangerous dogs while costing $600,000 in the past two years.
"It costs too much, and it doesn't work," Hendershot said before casting his vote. "This is not about the constitutional rights of dogs. For the record, I don't even like dogs. This is about what makes sense. . . . Public policy borne on the acts of a few stupid people is bad public policy."
Yesterday's hearing stirred passions, bringing some to tears. Elderly pit bull owners talked about how their dogs have been friendly companions. Other owners said they were like family members.
"I just don't see how they could go against us," said Lee Gamble of Fort Washington, whose pit bull would be euthanized if it fell into the hands of the county.
During her testimony, Pearline Chittams of Lanham rattled off a list of pit bull attacks across the country in the past year. Then she said, "None of these deaths or maulings occurred in Prince George's County because these dogs are banned here."
Some elderly residents talked about the fear they felt in their neighborhoods before the ban went into effect.
Even if the legislation had been approved, it is unlikely that County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) would have signed it into law. Donna M.P. Wilson, director of the county's Department of Environmental Resources, sent a letter to the council this year expressing Johnson's opposition. Wilson described pit bull terriers as the "breed of choice" among criminals involved in gang activity, dog fighting, gambling and drug dealing.
Miami and Denver have similar bans. California is considering a bill that would allow cities and counties to enact breed-specific legislation, which is illegal under state law.
In Cincinnati, however, a ban was lifted five years ago after officials found the law was affecting pit bulls that were not considered dangerous.
Advocates for the dogs have sought repeal of the law since it went into effect. Hendershot introduced a bill last year to lift the ban, but it died in committee. This year's proposal got a bit further.
His bill, which he said would punish dogs "based on their behavior, not on their breed," would have required that potentially dangerous dogs be vaccinated, be kept in a secure area, complete a behavior program and receive a microchip implant with owner identification.