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Assembly considers ban on pit bulls

By Ed Brock

Jennifer Whiting got her first pit bull terrier as a pup six years ago.

"After I got that dog, he was such a wonderful dog, I became addicted," said Whiting, a volunteer at the Clayton County Humane Society.

Now Whiting has four American pit bull terriers and she's hopeful that they will not become a prohibited breed in Georgia.

On Friday morning Whiting attended a hearing at the capitol regarding House Bill 78 that would make it illegal to "import, sell, transport, carry, own, keep or otherwise possess" American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers and Staffordshire bull terriers. Anyone who had owned such a dog for six months before the law takes effect would be allowed to keep it, but it would have to be spayed or neutered and kept in a secured area away from contact with the public or fully leashed and muzzled when in public.

However, Whiting said that during the hearing the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Earnest "Coach" Williams, D-Avondale Estates, talked about lifting the restrictions on the breed and pressing for stronger laws governing dogs in general.

"He made it sound today like we don't have anything to worry about," Whiting said.

Williams confirmed that he would meet with his co-sponsors in November and would probably withdraw the bill to re-introduce a modified version.

"We're going to look at the owners' responsibilities and make them more strict," Williams said.

Williams said they would also include other breeds in the new legislation.

The original law would have been nothing more than a "Bandaid" on the problem of pit bull attacks on humans and would put the blame on the wrong party , said Robin Rawls, Clayton County Humane Society vice president.

"It's not the dogs, it's the owners," Rawls said. "We've had good and bad (pit bulls at the Humane Society shelter), but I've seen good and bad Chihuahuas, too."

If the law passed people who fight dogs illegally would just use another breed, Rawls said. But she hasn't been too concerned because she hasn't expected the law to pass.

"I've been told that there's not a lot of support for it in the Assembly," Rawls said.

The original bill's chances for approval were a "toss up," said state Rep. Ron Dodson, D-Lake City.

"It probably would take a lot of explaining and tweaking and making sure you're not just violating somebody's rights," Dodson said. "I think something needs to be done. There are just so many cases where the dogs get out ... It seems like they're turning on their owners and family members."

The question is whether proper legislation can be written to address the issue, Dodson said.

Regardless of what the state legislature does, Clayton County Commissioner Charley Griswell said a local prohibition of pit bulls needs to be made.

"We've got a big problem in Clayton County," he said.

Griswell said there have been instances of people raising them to be fight dogs.

"Those things are dangerous," he said. "They don't ever know when they're going to strike."

Some of the attacks led to the victims' hospitalization, Griswell said. He said the solution was to eliminate pit bulls in the county.

The county's Animal Control office has already implemented a new policy in response to the dangers, real or perceived, posed by pit bulls. They will no longer adopt dogs out to members of the general public but only to bona fide rescue operations, Clayton County Police Capt. Larry Gibson said.

"That's mostly because the ones that were going out were being fought," Gibson said.