Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 27, 2013

Residents protest pit bull ban

By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — Click here for video

It was standing room only at city hall as droves of residents came out to protest a proposed ban of pit bulls within the city limits.

Leisa Moten said she is a 28-year resident of Bluefield and volunteer at the animal shelter. Moten said a breed ban in Bluefield would further overcrowd the Mercer County Animal Shelter and reduce the number of animals shelter employees could devote their time to adopting out.

“You will put every animal in that shelter on a 11-day life expectancy,” Moten told the board. “Every county resident pays taxes to the shelter. This will limit the number of animals that can be brought in by the city of Princeton and the county. Everyone in Mercer County should not have to pay for all the Bluefield animals that will come in from this ban. This doesn’t just impact Bluefield; it impacts the whole county.”

Keisha Farmer, of Bluefield, was one of many in the crowd wearing a shirt that said “Ban the Deed, Not the Breed.” Farmer said similar breed banning ordinances had cost other municipalities more than $500,000 to enforce and suggested the city change the ordinance to reflect all large breeds.

“It needs to be every dog over 20 pounds is considered dangerous,” Farmer said. “Every dog has a tendency to bite. Can you confirm with 100 percent accuracy the dog that bit the animal control officer was a pit bull? They do DNA testing at the animal shelter. Was the animal tested?”

Brian Powers, who lives and teaches breed modification classes in Bluefield, said animal control is the issue rather than the breed itself.

“I have been a Mercer County Animal Control Officer,” Powers said. “Your problem is how your codes are enforced. If you have the time to ban a breed, you should have enough time to enforce the ordinances you already have first. Instead of spending money to ban the breed, you should use this money to hire another animal control officer and that would end the problem right there.”

Amanda Dempsey, another former Mercer County animal control officer living in Bluefield, said she had worked with the city’s current animal control officer as both a county animal control officer and as a veterinary technician. Dempsey said she felt the current city animal control officer “is unprofessional” and asked the city to look into the matter.

Brian Marshall of Bluefield also said he felt the deeper issue is with animal control rather than the dogs themselves.

“It is irresponsible the way these codes are being enforced,” Marshall said.

Blaine Braithwaite of Bluefield said the reaction to the ban was an indication the city was not adequately communicating with the public about ordinances on the books.

“Both in 2005 and 2008 there wasn’t a public service announcement or outreach other than the next-day story in the newspaper that told people these laws had even changed,” Braithwaite said. “We need to do a better job communicating with the public. Let’s not settle for legislation that is a copy of an ordinance another municipality has successfully defended in court. Get the people in this room who have passion and knowledge to help you with this ordinance.”

Derrick Flack said he recently opened a pit bull breeding business within the city limits and that if the ban passes he will have to move his business into the county.

“That is lost business revenue to the city,” Flack said. “If you pass this ban, it means citizens and tax payers will have to pay the bills to enforce it.”

City Manager Jim Ferguson said there are currently only eight pit bulls registered with the city in compliance with the original law passed in 2008.

“It became apparent after our last meeting that our current ordinance was not understood nor was the need for a new ordinance understood,” Ferguson said. “After the last meeting, I found no pit bulls were registered with the city. As of today, there are eight. This law has been on the books for five years and there is a zero tolerance policy in place for those who do not comply with the ordinance, which I have expressed to city police and animal control.”

 City Attorney Brian Cochran reviewed the current ordinance regulating pit bulls and wolf-hybrids. Cochran said the ordinance called for all dogs to be registered within 10 days of when the ordinance was passed in 2008 or within 10 days of moving the animal into the city.

“We have had four or five incidents in municipal court where an animal has bit or attacked another person and the court has sent the animal to the shelter,” Cochran said. “It is up to the shelter to determine if the animal can be rehabilitated. The court does have the jurisdiction, however, to order the animal be destroyed.”

Board Member Deb Sarver also said there is an ordinance allowing only three pets to be kept in homes within city limits. Sarver said anyone looking to have more than three animals could apply for a free permit, which is dispensed at the city manager’s discretion.

In other action, Ferguson announced the city had hired Joshua David Cline of Bluefield to the position of redevelopment and planning director for the city. Ferguson said the position was originally that of economic development director but had been renamed to reflect further duties assigned to the position. Ferguson said Cline will be responsible for overseeing the city’s economic development plan Blue Momentum and working with members of Team Blue as well as writing grants and working on special assignments and projects for the city.