College Park City Council reviews decades-long ban on pit bull terriers

The College Park City Hall. (Elliot Scarangello / The Diamondback)

Animal care professionals called for the College Park City Council to push the Prince George’s County Council to reverse its current ban on pit bull terriers during Tuesday evening’s work session, labeling it as dangerous and nonsensical.

Since 1997, county residents have been barred from owning pit bull terriers, or dogs that resemble the breed. That’s still the case today — the county council was presented with a revised version of its animal control ordinance in September, but the revisions did not include removing the ban.

Vivian Cooper, an animal control officer in College Park who addressed the city council, condemned the policy.

“This law, in essence, does not necessarily protect county or city residents, but does remove family pets from homes,” Cooper said.

Furthermore, Cooper said the law leaves room for “incredibly subjective” enforcement, as it only requires dogs to look like pit bulls to come under scrutiny.

If residents are caught with a pet resembling a pit bull terrier, the law requires them to bring their dog in for a “breed evaluation,” at which it is examined to determine whether it is legally allowed in the county.

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If the dog is identified as a pit bull and its owner refuses to part with it, the county has two options: give it to a rescue group outside of the county or euthanize it.
District 1 Councilwoman Kate Kennedy recounted phone calls she’d received from two families, who were terrified they were about to lose their dogs after a neighbor reported them.

Both families’ dogs have since been cleared, but Kennedy recalled the panic in the residents’ voices about possibly having to leave College Park; they would rather move than give up their dogs.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Kennedy said.

Animal welfare organizations — such as the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior and the National Animal Care and Control Association — reject policies that target certain breeds and assert that no breed is inherently dangerous, according to materials provided at the meeting.

Similar organizations have expressed their concerns to county council members. The city’s Animal Welfare Committee also believes that overturning the ban would “provide an outlet for happy, social dogs to be adopted to local families.”

After working in dog rescue for 20 years, Kathy Rodeffer said she has come to understand just how ineffective bans on certain dog breeds are.

“I think that breed specific laws don’t really keep anybody safe,” said Rodeffer, who serves as co-chair on the Animal Welfare Committee and works with animal welfare groups. “There can be dangerous dogs of all breeds.”

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Cooper said she recognizes there’s a stigma surrounding pit bulls. She believes it can be traced back to their prevalence in dogfighting rings, which came into the national spotlight after former NFL quarterback Michael Vick pleaded guilty to running such a ring in 2007.

“Unfortunately, in these criminalized situations these animals are changed, turned into aggressive animals through criminal activity,” Cooper said. But that doesn’t mean pit bulls are inherently aggressive, she added.

After hearing the speakers’ concerns, the council decided to postpone further discussion on the issue to next week’s agenda. District 1 Councilman Fazlul Kabir said he hopes residents will come to the meeting to share their thoughts on the ban.

But Kennedy said her mind is already made up — she is 100 percent in support of calling upon the county to remove the ban.

“Pit bulls are supposed to be family dogs, that’s what they were bred to be,” Kennedy said, adding she will advocate on behalf of their cause to remove the ban.

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