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Pit bull ban draws foes

Ingrid Mezo
The Gazette

(5/18) Thurmont dog-owners, rescue groups, county Animal Control say breed-specific ban is bad idea

Several dog-owning Thurmont residents agreed this week that a proposed ban on pit bulls in the town is a bad idea.

Thurmont Commissioner Wayne Hooper said Wednesday that he is still leaning toward proposing a breed-specific ban against pit bulls in town to address an ongoing problem in the Thurmont East subdivision.

Hooper has not yet officially introduced an ordinance, but brought up the issue at a May 2 town meeting.

‘‘[Commissioners] Bill Blakeslee and Ron Terpko seemed to be in favor of it," Hooper said. ‘‘I’m not sure what Mayor [Martin Burns] or [Commissioner] Glenn Muth think, but I think we would have the majority."

Burns said Wednesday that he favors a more general ordinance that deals with aggressive dogs, rather than a breed-specific ban.

Denise Ridgeway, a Thurmont resident who takes her mixed-breed dog for frequent walks through her neighborhood, said she has a problem with breed-specific bans.

‘‘I think [the problem lies with] the person who is raising the dog, not the dog itself," Ridgeway said. ‘‘Any dog can be vicious. I think it’s the people who need to be banned."

Terry Falkenberg, a Thurmont resident who owns a Rottweiler/Boxer mix that many of her neighbors confuse for a pit bull, agreed that a dog’s temperament depends in large measure on its upbringing.

‘‘If they’re going to ban pit bulls, they should look at other aggressive breeds like Dobermans and Rottweilers," Falkenberg said.

Her husband, Jesse Falkenberg, said many American Staffordshire Terriers, commonly known as pit bulls, are bred and raised to be aggressive, but can just as easily be trained to be gentle, friendly pets.

Falkenberg said he had owned and raised an American Staffordshire Terrier ‘‘that was the sweetest thing, and was an American Kennel Champion.

‘‘The reason that I don’t agree with a [pit bull ban] is because that’s just one step closer to the government telling you how you can live," he said. ‘‘If you have a dog that’s aggressive, yeah, something needs to be done about it. The ones that are aggressive, it’s the people you need to do something about because that’s animal abuse."

The Falkenbergs’ neighbor, Debbie Herota, who was out walking her beagle, Lucy, on Friday, said her neighbors take good care of their dog. She said she felt it would be unfair to them if the town imposed a pit bull ban.

Other municipalities that have pit bull bans in place such as North Beach, the Town of Port Deposit, and Prince George’s County, also ban dogs that simply resemble pit bulls. The bans specifically mention American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers, and any dogs which have the appearance of being predominantly any of those breeds.

Frederick County Animal Control Division Director Harold L. Domer Jr. said county policy reflects a belief that animals are not at fault for their behavior. A county ordinance states that the owner of a potentially dangerous dog has to either not show up for a hearing, fail to pay fines related to the dog or the dog has to bite someone in order for the county to be able to remove a dog from a home.

Domer confirmed that Animal Control had responded to the Thurmont East subdivision on several occasions due to a problematic dog. He said he was working with town officials to come up with a solution to the problem that will not involve banning a specific breed.

‘‘It is not the animal’s fault," Domer said. ‘‘If an owner does not introduce and socialize the dog to other animals and people, if that dog is chained up or secured, it can become aggressive or protective ... Everything I’ve seen is not about the breed. It is about irresponsible pet ownership."

At the county shelter, five pit bulls are currently looking for homes.

Thurmont town attorney Lynn Board and Thurmont Police Chief Greg Eyler both said this week that they have discussed a stricter ordinance for aggressive dogs, but both said they have not discussed a breed specific ban. The town’s ordinance handles nuisance complaints related to dogs, but generally follows the county’s guidelines for dealing with aggressive dogs, Hooper said.

Eyler said he wanted to work with Frederick County Animal Control to rectify the problem in the Thurmont East subdivision.

Hooper said he thought a breed specific ban would better resolve the problem, because it does not require the dog to bite someone before the dog can be removed from the town.

‘‘It is a pit bull that’s causing us the trouble, and we haven’t had any real troubles with other dogs," Hooper said. ‘‘My concern is the dog has been deemed potentially dangerous, and they still haven’t done anything about it ... When you’re going breed specific you have people saying pit bulls are fine, and it’s the owners making the dogs that way, and then you have others saying it’s the breed. We hate to make it breed specific but that’s the one breed that’s causing us the trouble, and children in the neighborhood can’t go out and play."

Gina Taei, who operates Bully Lovers, a rescue group which works with Frederick County Animal Control to find homes for bulldogs and pit bulls, said she was opposed to a breed-specific ban.

‘‘I wouldn’t be in favor of any breed-specific ban because they’re not effective and they’re quite damning for any breed," Taei said. ‘‘What, we’re going to keep banning the breeds until you can’t have any breeds at all?"

Taei said people do not understand that there is a big difference between what dogs were bred for and what they’re used for now.

‘‘People are unable to distinguish between animal aggression and aggression toward people," she said.

She said several breeds of dogs including pit bulls, Great Danes, Chihuahuas, and Maltese, and most terrier breeds were bred to sniff out rodents and be aggressive toward other animals.

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