PORTERDALE -- Representatives of the Conyers Kennel Club urged City Council members last week to target irresponsible dog owners rather than a specific breed of dog.
City Council members earlier this month expressed interest in pursuing a ban on pit bulldogs in the city limits, as proposed by Councilman Mike Harper. The council had agreed unanimously to research whether or not ownership of certain breeds could be banned or restricted in the town.
At last Thursday's work session, Harper acknowledged that tough financial times might mean that the research would have to be put on the back burner.
"Somebody's got to do it sooner or later," he said, "but with the budget we've got right now, we need to back off this right now."
Representatives of the Conyers Kennel Club, which includes Rockdale, Newton and Henry counties, provided information to the council regarding pit bulldogs and offered to work with the council on developing a city code that will promote responsible dog ownership.
Conyers Kennel Club President Don Watson, who lives in Oxford, said pit bulls typically resemble an American Staffordshire terrier. These dogs generally have a sweet disposition, Watson said, but can be trained to fight and kill.
"That is not the dog's fault; that's the owner's fault," Watson said.
Watson said in his more than 20 years of participating in large dog shows, he has never seen an American Staffordshire show aggression toward other dogs or people.
Nancy Donahue, a member of the Conyers Kennel Club, asked council members to "target the deed, not the breed," pointing out that "pit bull" is not a recognized breed of dog but rather dogs that share a group of similar physical characteristics.
"Breed-specific legislation has been deemed unconstitutional in many municipalities because of the difficulty in identification (of the breed)," she said.
Councilmembers also heard from Carol Johnson, a veterinarian technician at Animal Medical Clinic, who said she is the owner of a pit bull. Johnson said the council should give more emphasis to whether or not a dog is spayed or neutered rather than the breed of dog.
"How many (dogs in Newton County) are neutered or spayed?" she asked. "And isn't that more of a factor in aggressiveness?"
Johnson said that fewer than 40 percent of dogs in the county are neutered or spayed, even though free or reduced-fee clinics are available to dog owners.
The council also considered information from Porterdale resident Jerry Goldsmith, who rescues and fosters dogs. Goldsmith pointed out that, according to the American Humane Society, 92 percent of fatal dog attacks involve male dogs. In addition, he said, of that 92 percent, 94 percent "were not neutered, and nowhere in (Porterdale's) dog ordinance do we require a dog to be neutered."
Watson said that the Conyers Kennel Club would not be in favor of a mandatory spay/neuter program since show dogs must be intact. However, he said that the club would support a spay/neuter program if show dogs were exempted. He told the council that the kennel club would work with the city to find low-cost spay/neuter programs for city residents.
Mayor Bobby Hamby recommended that Councilwoman Linda Finger, who spearheaded Porterdale's mandatory pet registration program, work with the Conyers Kennel Club on developing ordinance changes that would address the city's concerns about dangerous dogs. Watson said the kennel club and the Georgia Canine Coalition could review the city's animal control ordinance and help draft changes that would promote responsible pet ownership.
Councilman Harper, however, said he did not want an organization from Conyers to "derail" their efforts. He said he would not be satisfied with less than an outright ban on pit bulls.
"If you ban pit bulls from Porterdale and we stick behind it, then we won't have pit bull attacks in Porterdale," he said. "If we don't do something, it's going to eventually happen here."