PROVIDENCE – City and town ordinances to ban or otherwise restrict the possession of pit bulls, or any other specific breeds of dogs or cats would be nullified if legislation passed by the House of Representatives on Wednesday becomes law.
Lawmakers voted 59-10 to pass the ordinance over the objection of representatives from Pawtucket and Woonsocket, among other places, who protested taking such decisions out of the hands of municipal leaders. Proponents argued that targeting specific breeds does not make sense.
Pawtucket passed its ordinance banning pit bulls in 2004, Rep. J. Patrick O’Neill said, because pit bulls were being used by drug dealers and other criminals “as weapons.
“If this legislation passes and you are from a community outside of Pawtucket and six months from now Pawtucket Police officers are executing a search warrant on a house and two pit bulls attack a Pawtucket police officer, what do I go back to them and say? That Rep. So-and-so thought they knew better than the City Council of Pawtucket about outlawing pit bulls.
“The people who are using pit bulls as weapons, protection for their drug houses aren’t the ones who come up to the Statehouse and testify about how you can’t as a city or town tell me what kind of dog I can have. Why aren’t we leaving this up to local cities and towns?”
Woonsocket Rep. Lisa Baldelli-Hunt agreed, saying the legislature is “restricting communities from doing what is best for their residents. We can dictate to municipalities what they should and shouldn’t do. We will lose control of our communities.” The question, Baldelli-Hunt said, is “how do we protect animals from their (vicious) owners?”
Pawtucket Rep. Raymond Johnston, a Pawtucket Police officer said he witnessed first-hand a pit bull attack on a woman, “when all she did was go out and get a newspaper from her front yard. Prior to the 2004 ordinance, Johnston said, Pawtucket Police had to take an animal control officer out with them on drug raids “because a majority of times the subject of the warrant was accompanied by a pit bull.”
Cumberland-Central Falls Rep. James McLaughlin said the Central Falls police chief told him of “hundreds of incidents of pit bulls being used as weapons.” McLaughlin said he is an animal lover, but “human beings make these animals what they are.”
When Speaker Gordon Fox asked McLaughlin if he wanted to ban the owners, McLaughlin thought about it and said, “a few of them, yeah,” Cranston Rep. Charlene Lima immediately shouted “Second,” jokingly trying to second such a motion.
Rep. Edith Ajello made the claim that of the 22 dogs rescued from football star Michael Vick’s dogfighting operation, “20 of them are now living with people, a good number of them are service dogs, bringing comfort and pleasure to people in nursing homes. It is the people, not the dogs, who are responsible for vicious animal behavior. It could be Doberman Pinschers, it could be Rottweilers, it could be Mastiffs, it could be my fluffy little Blondie of no particular breed.”
The legislation, if passed by the Senate and signed into law by Gov. Lincoln Chafee, would nullify existing bans on specific breeds such as Pawtucket’s pit bull ban. Communities that already have the law would not be grandfathered, House officials said.
Lending levity to what had become an emotional discussion, Pawtucket Rep. William San Bento asked “would this bill affect my cockatoo?”
“Only if it bites,” Fox responded without missing a beat.
Of the 10 no votes, eight came from local communities, including O’Neill Baldelli-Hunt, Johnston, San Bento, McLaughlin, and Reps. Mary Duffy Messier of Pawtucket and Stephen Casey and Robert Phillips of Woonsocket.
Follow Jim Baron on Twitter @Jim_Baron