Residents mostly against pit bull restrictions

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Residents passionately cried out Tuesday against pit bull-restricting legislation proposed by the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners, as an advisory council said it would "strongly recommend" the board not implement the proposal.

One hundred or so residents crammed into a meeting room at the county's Animal Welfare and Enforcement Center on Tuesday night, as the Animal Advisory Council discussed the controversial issue presented to it just a week ago.

Twenty locals spoke against the legislation. Just two spoke for it. Those opposed alternately called the proposal "a Pandora's box," "unenforceable," "a knee-jerk reaction" and "stupid."

"It's not the breed. It's irresponsible owners," resident Sylvia Black said. "There's been study after study after study that say these breed-specific laws do not work."

"Why are we in Gwinnett County revisiting something that has been proven not to work in the past? Why don't we forge a new path, and do something that will work?"

Under the proposed ordinance, a pit bull would be defined as a dog which "substantially conforms to the standards established by the United Kennel Club for American Pit bull Terriers" or "contains as an element of its breeding the breed American pit bull terriers so as to be identifiable as partially of the breed ... by a qualified veterinarian."

Any owner of such a dog would have to follow a series of steps in order to keep up with protocol, including:

* Registering the dog with Gwinnett County annually, a process involving the owner's name and address, as well as a photo and description of the dog.

* Providing proof of a proper enclosure.

* Providing proof of microchip registration.

* Maintaining an insurance policy or surety bond of at least $50,000 that would cover any injuries inflicted by the dog.

While outspoken residents pointed to the need for owner education and discipline, advisory council chairwoman Gail LaBerge said she had been fighting breed-specific legislation for 10 years and would not support it in Gwinnett.

"I believe all dogs can be dangerous, and I believe all humans can be dangerous," she said.

All members of the seven-person council recommended the proposal's removal. The Board of Commissioners is not mandated to follow the council's recommendation.

Tuesday's meeting comes in the wake of a similar attempt in Douglasville. The city council there narrowly voted against a ban on pit bulls.

In Gwinnett, the proposed restriction -- not ban -- of the breed met strong opposition.

"Why are we even here?" advisory council member Carla Brown said. "I really don't know."