Columbia officials explore limits and higher fees on pit bulls and ‘bully breeds’

01/14/2014 1:28 PM

01/14/2014 1:29 PM

Several Columbia City Council members said Tuesday they want to explore making it tougher for people to own pit bulls within the city limits.

The goal would be not to ban pit bulls, but to control their growth and handling by some owners who use the breed for fights or other ways that disturb neighborhoods, city officials said.

“You see 10-year-olds walking pit bulls, and they can’t control them,” council member Sam Davis said during a council work session. Pit bull owners often have to have heavy chains to control their pets when they go out for a walk, he added.

“Anytime you walk the street with a dog and the chain is big, that tells you something,” Davis said. “They’re dangerous. They fight at night – we just can’t catch them.”

Council member Cameron Runyan said he already has explored how other cities control the populations of dogs known as aggressive.

“A ‘bully breed’ ordinance would not prevent someone from owning such a dog, but it would tie a pretty significant – expensive – permit to it,” Runyan said.

Runyan said such ordinances have withstood court challenges in other cities since they don’t outright ban pit bulls and other dogs with reputations for being aggressive.

According to various surveys, pit bulls and several other types of dog known for aggression have a high percentage of attacks on humans, when compared with other dogs such as collies or beagles.

However, many pit bull owners say the dogs make loving family pets and their aggression is the result of mistreatment. The phrase “bully breed” refers to the family of dogs that pit bulls belong to, not that the dogs are bullies that wantonly attack, according to various dog breeding websites.

The pit bull issue came up during a discussion of a possible ordinance that would allow city residents to own up to three dogs. Currently, a household can have two dogs. The discussion also included the airing of possible measures to make the city a “no kill” zone for pets, which means the city’s animal control shelter would take steps to sharply limit the number of dogs and cats euthanized each year.

Currently, the shelter euthanizes about 11,000 dogs and cats a year, city officials said. About 7 percent – or more than 700 – of the euthanized animals are pit bulls, which no one wants to adopt, city officials said.

Along with the increase in the legal number of dogs allowed per household, officials discussed enacting measures to ensure more dogs are registered with the city, which would generate more fees for city coffers, council members said.

The shelter’s budget is about $1.3 million a year, and Richland County contributes $280,000 of that. A full-fledged licensing program could bring in at least $750,000 a year and perhaps much more, officials said. To make the plan effective, the county would have to participate, officials said.

All city pets are supposed to be registered.

The fee to register a neutered dog or cat is $5. An unneutered dog or cat costs $25.

Members did not discuss raising fees.

There is no limit on the number of cats a household may have.

Tuesday’s meeting was a work session with three council members and city staff. The session’s aim was to see which of several ideas merited further exploration and subsequent forwarding to the full council for discussion.

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