By Kim Kalunian, WPRO News
CORRECTION: Rep. Ray Gallison is the House sponsor of this bill. The sponsor was misidentified in a previous version of this story. We regret the error.
Senator Chris Ottiano (R-Bristol, Portsmouth) has submitted a bill that would require all pit bulls in Rhode Island to be caged or muzzled at all times. The bill has pit bull and animal advocates voicing their concern, but Ottiano said he realizes the legislation needs a lot of work.
The legislation was born out of a Bristol Town Council resolution that was drafted after several residents dogs were attacked by other canines in public places. Ottiano said the owners of the vicious dogs were not held accountable for their animals' actions, and subsequently let the dogs be euthanized and then acquired new dogs.
The legislation, submitted earlier this month, targets pit bulls specifically, calling them "dangerous" and mandating that all owners register the dogs with their municipality.
The legislation says that, because of pit bulls' "inbred propensity to attack other animals" they must "at all times" be kept inside or in a "enclosed and locked pen, with either a top or with all four sides at least six feet high." The bill goes on to say that if a dog is not confined, it must be muzzled at all times it is on a leash, and cannot be walked within 100 feet of a school.
The bill also proposes that pit bull owners be able to prove they have the financial ability to respond to any damages or harm caused by the dog in the amount of $50,000.
Dr. E.J. Finocchio of the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said he agrees with the insurance and registration of the dogs, but not with the confinement or muzzling. Finocchio said there are already vicious dog laws in place that ensure dogs that growl, bite or attack will be properly confined.
"How could you impose that a dog that is not even vicious, he or she has to be muzzled or put in such a confinement?" he asked.
Finocchio said pit bulls do not bite more than any other breed, but their attacks can be more serious due.
"Walking down the street with a Chihuahua you're carrying a BB gun, if you're walking down the street with a pit bull, you're walking down the street with a machine gun,” he said.
Finocchio said he would like to see a moratorium on pit bull breeding unless the breeder is American Kennel Club (AKC) certified.
“We need to get these inner-city thugs who are breeding these dogs, we need to put them out if business,” he said.
Susan Parker, President of the Little Rhodie Bully Breed Club, said, “Our organization, the Little Rhodie Bully Breed Club Inc... a 501 C 3 organization is highly opposed to BSL [Breed Specific Legislation] in the state of RI. We as a group are working hard on alternative ideas. We also believe that education (beginning with school age children) and responsible ownership along with offering low cost spay/neuter is the key to success. BSL does nothing but hurt responsible owners & their beloved pets. “
Ottiano told WPRO Tuesday he spent two years drafting the legislation, which he realizes is far from perfect.
"Admittedly, we did not have any input from so-called national canine groups but now with the placement of the bill, we had sent a copy of it to some of the national groups," he said.
Finocchio said no one has contacted him for his input on the legislation.
Rep. Ray Gallison (D-Bristol, Portsmouth) is the sponsor of the bill in the House, but said he only agreed to sponsor the bill because it was handed to him by Ottiano and the Town Council. He said submitting the bill is "as far as it goes with me."
Ottiano said he hopes the legislation will ultimately zero in on irresponsible dog owners, and not on the animals themselves. He is now working with animal advocacy organizations to make the bill more palatable to all parties involved, and said it could take years before the language in the bill is finalized.
UPDATE: It has been made clear by Ottiano that the bill will be submitted only for discussion, and will not go to a hearing this session.