By CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Time is quickly running out for unregistered pit bulls in the city limits of Bluefield. But what happens after Friday for those dogs found in violation of the city’s new pit bull ban is still open for debate.
The deadline to have all existing pit bulls registered with the Bluefield Police Department is Friday. After Friday, no new pit bulls will be allowed in the city. However, questions remain as to whether pit bulls that are confiscated by the city will remain at the Mercer County Animal Shelter — or if they will be released back to their city owners.
County Commission President Mike Vinciguerra said Tuesday that the only way the county will keep a confiscated pit bull at the animal shelter is if a city animal control officer who has captured the dog has a court order — signed by a city judge — that requires the shelter to hold the animal.
That means — according to Vinciguerra — that a pit bull confiscated by a city animal control officer would have to be taken to a city judge first, and the judge would have to issue a signed court order instructing that the animal be detained at the shelter. If the city animal control officer doesn’t have a court order signed by a city judge, the owner of the pit bull in question could then come to the shelter within five days, pick the animal up and take it back to the city limits of Bluefield, Vinciguerra said.
“A county animal control officer can not or is not required to enforce a municipality code,” Vinciguerra said. “If they bring a dog to the animal shelter, and if an owner comes and claims it within five days, we can let them have it back provided he has a rabies shot and a dog tag. I think what the city is saying — they are saying if it’s a court order. If it is a court order, we have to hold a dog. We can’t release it if the court says we have to hold it for trial. But if they just pick it up and bring it up there and there is no court order with it, and the owner came and picked it up, we could release it.”
Vinciguerra said the county must comply with state code — not city code. In an interview last week with the Daily Telegraph, Bluefield Mayor Linda Whalen said the city would take the county to court if the commissioners do not comply with the city’s pit bull ban.
“We don’t want to take a person’s animal,” Vinciguerra said. “And we don’t want to put any to sleep. But sometimes there is an instance where we have to. We just need more people to adopt animals. We want people to adopt these animals.”
Vinciguerra said he didn’t think Bluefield’s pit bull ban will lead to overcrowding at the animal shelter.
“I don’t really think it is going to,” he said. “I really don’t We may have to hold them a few more days before we go to court. But it can’t be a whole lot more than it is now. Because we are full right now. We just need to get more people adopting them out. I would say the shelter is getting ready to have some adoption events.”
Vinciguerra said a Bluefield animal control officer brought a pit bull to the shelter just a few days ago — and the animal was pregnant. He questioned how the pit bull could be pregnant considering Bluefield has a spay-neuter ordinance.
— Contact Charles Owens at email@example.com