Monday, August 21, 2006

Dog ban 'unconstitutional'

By:Gregg M. Miliote,
Herald News Staff Reporter

FALL RIVER - A proposed breed-specific dog ordinance was sent back to committee Tuesday night after the City Council heard impassioned pleas from several residents opposed to the legislation and received a letter from the city's attorney stating the City Council's proposed breed-specific dog ordinance was "unconstitutionally vague."

About 150 concerned residents, some wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase "Blame the deed not the breed," attended Tuesday night's meeting to voice their displeasure with the council's proposed ordinance.

The ordinance would have required all owners of pit bulls and Rottweilers to keep the dogs confined behind 6-foot high fences. The dogs would not be allowed off their properties except to go to the veterinarian. Also, those two breeds would not be allowed to be sold within the city limits.

In his letter to the council, Corporation Counsel Thomas McGuire said, as currently drafted, the dog ordinance is unconstitutional.

He said the state's Supreme Judicial Court in 1989 ruled that a similar breed-specific ordinance penned by the Lynn City Council was unconstitutionally vague.

"As I stated to the Committee on Ordinances at its meeting on July 11, the ordinance, as presently drafted, appears to be unconstitutional," McGuire wrote. "I am therefore unable to approve the legal character of the ordinance in its present form."

McGuire's legal argument against the ordinance was bolstered by a more emotional argument from countless members of the public who addressed the council Tuesday night.

Several dog owners said it was unfair to judge all dogs the same way, and asserted the council lacked an education on dogs in general.

"There's no such thing as a bad dog. There are bad owners who don't know how to train their dogs," said city resident Joe Silvia. "We really need to educate owners. Dogs need exercise. If you pen them in, they become more violent."

Worcester-based attorney Rebecca Carner, who said she has already been retained by angry Fall River dog owners, said she is prepared to challenge the ordinance in court if need be, but said she and her clients would much rather work with the council on a more sensible dog ordinance.

She also questioned the relevancy of a breed-specific dog ordinance, asserting that criminals the ordinance is intended to root out would adjust to the change in law, leaving law-abiding dog owners with the heartache.

"Drug dealers are already ignoring your laws," Carner asserted. "They will just switch breeds."

The most emotional plea came from city resident Anthony Babine, who told a story about his sister's Rottweiler, Coco, that silenced the 150 or so audience members.

Babine said one day Coco began relentlessly pounding his head up against his sister's bedroom door to get the family's attention. When Babine finally came to the door, he found it was locked. But Coco would not stop slamming into it.

Babine said he eventually broke the door down and found his sister choking to death on her bed.

"Coco saved my sister's life," Babine said.

Although opponents of the proposed ordinance won a victory Tuesday night, the matter is still open. Instead, it was referred back to committee where it can be reworked and resubmitted to the full council for another vote.

City Council President William F. Whitty said the Committee on Ordinances will now reassess the issue.

"This ordinance was not just pulled out of the air," Whitty told the audience members. "We tried to be fair with it."

A date when the Committee on Ordinances next meets has yet to be scheduled.


Post a Comment

<< Home