By Dick Cook
SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. -- City officials here say complaints about dogs running loose prompted them recently to pass an ordinance prohibiting people within the city limits from owning pit bulls.
"We have a dog problem in general," said City Manager Tom Landers. "We had an incident with a pit bull probably six months ago, but with a dog like that you never know when it's going to go off."
The ordinance sites a number of reasons the dog was singled out including, "a combination of agility, stamina and strength, together with a genetic predisposition to aggressiveness" that makes pit bulls "uniquely dangerous, even to their owners."
People who already own pit bulls within the city will be required to register them and carry liability insurance, officials said. Any pups must be removed within six weeks, the ordinance states.
Owners who don't comply could have their dogs seized and can be fined $50 plus court costs.
Nathan Ellis, who owns two pit bulls that guard his auto repair business, said the law is unfair and "picking on one breed."
"It shouldn't be against one dog," Mr. Ellis said while playing with his pit bull Sable outside Pro-Tech Automotive Services on Thursday. "I understand people raise them and fight them, but you've got to make a dog do that.
"You can't just pick one dog and say 'well, this dog is a mean dog,' " he said. "I've see Rottweilers, chows, and mutts that are mean because you make them that way by abusing them."
Mr. Ellis said he will be forced to remove the dogs because he can't find an insurance agent to write a liability policy.
South Pittsburg isn't the only area town with dog problems.
In Catoosa County, Ga., animal control director Darla Proctor said the county has had a dangerous-dog ordinance for more than a year. The ordinance doesn't ban a breed, but it sets specific requirements for owning pit bulls, Rottweilers and chows.
Ms. Proctor said her officers enforce the law.
"People will be cited to court and they say they've given the dog to someone in Tennessee," she said. "Two months later (the dogs) will be back and running loose."
Ms. Proctor said she has known a lot of "sweet" pit bulls and has owned pit bulls herself.
"If you've got one that picks a fight with another dog and you get in the middle of it, that's where accidents happen," she said. "This isn't the breed to have an accident with."
Jennifer Streun, a Marion County resident who works in South Pittsburg, breeds pit bulls with her boyfriend at Johnson's American Pit Bull Kennel. Ms. Streun said the South Pittsburg ordinance misses the mark.
"The idea of a breed-specific law is just ridiculous," she said.
"It's an owner problem, not an animal problem," she said. "Some people who get these dogs as a status symbol don't know how to train them. They are what's called a 'bully breed,' and can be very (stubborn)."
Ms. Streun said she's aware of laws in Michigan, Florida and New York that ban ownership of pit bulls.
Last week, Marion County Sheriff Ronnie "Bo" Burnett said his office receives a lot of stray-animal calls. The county has no animal control department, he said, but a County Commission committee to study the animal control issue met a couple of weeks ago.
"We've got a lot of people moving in here, and we are going to have to confront the problem eventually," he said.
South Pittsburg Police Chief Mark Garner said it will be difficult to enforce the ordinance but his officers would "do their best," and he is asking the people of the city to work with officials.
Chief Garner said his teenage daughter was bitten by a pit bull when she was 4.
"I know how scary it is when a child is attacked by a pit bull," he said.
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PIT BULL ORDINANCE
People who own pit bulls may keep them under provisions that include:
* All pit bulls shall be confined indoors or in a locked kennel.
* No pit bull may be kept on a porch, patio or part of a house that the dog can exit.
* Owners shall display a "Beware of Dog" sign.
* Owners must provide proof of $100,000 public liability insurance.
* Owners must provide the city with two color photos of the dog.
* Owners must report dog births and deaths and their own address if they move within the city limits.
* All pups born must be removed from the city within six weeks.
* No person shall sell or transfer pit bulls to any person in South Pittsburg.
Source: South Pittsburg