Thursday, May 27, 2010

Pit bull regulation ordinance will not go forward

The council has decided against an ordinance regulating pit bulls in Lodi.
At a public meeting on May 17 any ordinance involving dogs or pit bulls was missing from the agenda. However, a member of the public addressed the council, stating her opposition to the proposed ordinance.
The drafted ordinance, previously under consideration by the council, would have required pit bulls to be muzzled while in public and to be kept on a leash with a minimum tensile strength of 300 pounds, restricting movement to no more than three feet from the owner. Another point under consideration was a requirement for pit bull owners to show the borough clerk proof of insurance or a $50,000 bond to cover any damage or injury.
The idea was inspired in part by an ordinance under consideration by Garfield. The Garfield ordinance passed on first reading, April 12 but was defeated on its second reading.
Amanda Sheldon, a Saddle Brook resident and a teacher in Lodi's Thomas Jefferson Middle School, addressed the council in the public portion of the May 17 meeting.
"I'm here tonight to respectfully express opposition on an ordinance containing breed-discriminatory language, on the grounds that breed-discriminatory legislation will be incredibly costly to enforce, drive the town into time and resources for litigation and prove to be ineffective at improving the safety of the community," she said. "Furthermore, breed-discriminatory regulations will alienate responsible owners and will create unnecessary controversy in your community. Breed-neutral (laws) can be effective. They can be practical and they can be fair and can save the town precious time and community resources that would be better used elsewhere."
Sheldon suggested the first step the town should take for a safer community would be the routine enforcement of a breed-neutral dangerous dog law. Step two would be prevention of improper ownership in the first place.
Sheldon stated that irresponsible owners would mistreat any breed of dog they had.
"If you ban one specific breed, which it would be almost impossible to identify anyway, they'll just get another breed," said Sheldon. "I don't have children, but I'm a teacher in Lodi. As far as the safety of my students is concerned, if you ask me, would you rather have your 12-year-old student bit by a dog that's defined as a Rottweiler, a German shepherd, a pit bull, a dachshund or golden retriever, my answer would be none."
Sheldon said the town must enforce laws against back yard breeding and existing leash laws. She also suggested offering free education to the community on responsible ownership and safety around animals.
"If you decide to go that route, I would offer my services for free," she said.
Sheldon told the council what she knew about the pit bull issue in Garfield.
"Garfield recently defeated a breed specific ordinance that they were thinking about passing. On May 11, five to nothing, they defeated it and they decided instead they were going to go with a breed-neutral dangerous dog law and free community education," she said.
Sheldon expressed that the controversial pit bull ordinance considered in Garfield actually presented an opportunity because of the support and help available by dog advocacy groups and responsible dog owners who rallied against it.
"As a result a lot of the people with a lot of experience — animal control officers of New Jersey, certified trainers, teachers and college professors offered to help for free," she said.
Sheldon told the council that the Garfield council will be meeting on May 27 and are inviting members of the public who have ideas about breed-neutral dangerous dog laws and community education.
Mayor Bruce Masopust told Sheldon that the council considered the ordinance for a while but ultimately decided against it.
"(The borough attorney) opened our eyes to some of the things that you have said and thought we have laws on the books already that cover it. He thought that was sufficient," said Masopust. "I got a bunch of e-mails and a bunch of (people) offered their services just as you did which we're always looking for help and definitely I would welcome it."

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