Messenger photo by Dianne Garrett
Anne Reilly, left, is a volunteer at Citizens for Humane Action, a shelter in Westerville. She wore a t-shirt with the message "Resist Ignorance/Educate, Inspire" to show her opposition to the proposed pit bull ban in Whitehall. Whitehall resident Denise Roberge, right, also opposes the ban and shared that her grandmother’s dog was attacked by a German Shepherd during a walk in Whitehall, but has never been threatened by a pit bull.
In most households, pets are beloved members of the family. However, an animal in the eyes of the law is personal property. So the question before Whitehall City Council is whether pit bulls should stay or go, or should owners be held more accountable?
Councilwoman Jackie Thompson’s legislation to ban pit pulls is still in draft form and is being discussed in committee. But at the March 18 meeting, people representing both sides of the issue passionately, and sometimes emotionally, expressed their opinions.
Thompson is equally passionate on her stance that the pits need to leave Whitehall.
Pit bull owners, animal shelter workers, animal behaviorists from all over central Ohio, including Zanesville, Upper Arlington, Marysville and Columbus, as well as a local veterinarian and residents who feel threatened, numbered over 100 in the standing room only meeting.
Whitehall resident Janiece Miller, recently bought an American Bulldog for her 12-year-old son as a birthday present. The eight-month old pup gets along with the family and neighbors, sleeps with her son, and according to Miller, is a very sweet dog.
She dos not like the name "pit bull," which is derived from fighting dogs in a pit.
"Yes, there are those who use the dogs for unscrupulous motives, but mine will only attack you with his tongue," Miller said.
Miller’s neighbor, Kathy Robinson, shared that she lives between neighbors who own pit bulls, and both dogs are very sociable.
She recalled when the one neighbor, who is elderly, had a medical emergency. Knowing paramedics were on the way, and the general fear of pit bulls, she went through the back door, petted the dog, and assured it that everything was okay. The dog never attempted to challenge the paramedics as they treated his owner.
Other residents told council that they wished the city would be as diligent dealing with all the sexual predators living in Whitehall. The comment heard repeatedly was officials should make owners more responsible and return an animal control officer to the city.
One man said, "Fear the person controlling the leash more than what’s attached to it."
They also explained that there are about 25 breeds of dogs who look similar to pit bulls, and that identifying them would prove costly and time-consuming for officers paid with taxpayers’ dollars.
They said they also feel it is discrimination to single out pit bull owners, and the city could be facing law suits in retaliation.
Local veterinarian Dr. Anne Duffus, has been practicing at Whitehall Animal Hospital for 15 years and is more concerned about two-leeged predators than four-legged ones.
"I have a conceal -carry permit. Not because of dogs in Whitehall, but because of people in Whitehall," Duffus said.
She said that about 10 percent of her patients are pits, and the worst bite she ever received that required medical attention was from a Sharpei
She noted that 99.99 percent of the pits are sweet-natured with good owners.
"They are the ones who will be penalized," the vet warned.
She asked council what they are trying to achieve. "Any large breed of animal can inflict serious injury or death…horses, cows, llamas."
Duffus said that the ones who cause the problems are of a criminal element, or irresponsible owners. "You can ban a breed, but criminals will just get another dog such as a Rottweiler or Shepherd to train to be mean. It would be good if you would bring back an animal control officer. Since you let yours go, I end up with the unwanted animals in boxes or tied up in front of my office, or even in my mailbox."
She said that she’s had a increase of animals being dumped on her since the animal control officer job was abolished.
Other related horror stories involving pit bulls.
Whitehall resident Charlene Rarey could barely speak beyond the tears as she relived a loss her family suffered in 1987.
"My three-year old niece was ripped apart and killed by an unprovoked pit bull in a few short minutes in Reynoldsburg.," Rarey said. "Whitehall is a great place to live with a great police department. Please consider the ban."
Another resident, John Bushby, is a property tax appraiser, and replayed an incident in the city when he parked his car in front of a home to do an appraisal. A homeowner let a pit out the door without a fence or leash.
He said that first the dog jumped all over his car scratching it, and then attacked a tire.
"He clamped down on the tire, and literally shook my car," said Bushby. "Imagine if that had been me or a child. I drove off, and didn’t care if I hit the dog, which I didn’t."
Barb Penn has lived in Whitehall most of her life, and does animal rescue and placement. She said through her experience, Whitehall has a serious pit bull problem.
Penn shared an incident where a pit attacked a human, clamping and holding on. A police officer shot and killed the dog, but that did not release the victim. The paramedics had to come and break the dog’s jaws to release the person in order to transport to the hospital.
After listening to about two hours of testimonies, council members offered that they appreciated all the input from both sides to help them be able to make a reasonable decision.
Anyone who could like to talk to a council member, pro or con, can call the council office at 237-8614 to obtain their phone numbers and email addresses.
At the end of the meeting, Thompson told those who remained that she was not trying to do a mass massacre. Her legislation has a grandfather clause in it for anyone who would register their dog prior to passage, and that they would be given ample notice if they had to get rid of their dogs.
In her campaign platform last year she promised to address the pit bull issue, and that is what she said she is trying to do for the citizens who have contacted her with problems in their neighborhoods.
In other business, council approved the proposed FedX to be located on Poth Road. It will be in conjunction with the city’s Reinvestment Area Program with a ten- year commitment.
They also approved the mayor to apply for and accept a "2008 Assistance to Firefighters" grant from the Department of Homeland Security. The city’s match is 20%, and will enable the purchase of a new Fire Safety House, which is used to teach children at Safety Town. The cost is $50,000 and Whitehall would be responsible for $10,000.
A newly created job was approved with a salary range of $45,000-$65,000. A Deputy for Information Technology would be a full time position. The position would eliminate outside contracts for handling the day-to-day technological needs, and free up other employees who have been performing the trouble shooting.
The next council meeting will be April 1 at 7 p.m.