By Lee Weyhrich
Arguments against the city of Clay’s new “vicious dog” ordinance got, well, vicious at Monday’s Clay City Council meeting.
The argument centers around the belief that the law singles out American pit bull terriers in particular as dangerous, while ignoring other breeds.
Members of the audience got unruly several times, leading Mayor Charles Webster to make several calls for order. One man even had to be escorted from the meeting by a deputy.
“This is a violation of the rights of the people of Clay,” Melanie Hughes-Hicks from the charity organization Bama Bully Rescue said. She added that none of the dogs involved in the recent altercation with Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale were, in fact, pit bulls.
Hughes-Hicks cited the case of Sheila Tack v. Huntsville, AL, as an argument that Clay’s ordinance could not stand as written. The Alabama Supreme Court ruled, in 2002, that American pit bull terriers were not inherently dangerous, and were in fact no more dangerous than other breeds. This was in response to Huntsville’s adoption of a policy whereby pit bulls would be euthanized rather than adopted out.
“Breed laws perpetuate the myth that some breeds are inherently bad,” Clay resident Mary Schreiner said.
Sheila Gray, a Clay resident, noted that the first dog in American history to become a decorated war hero was Sergeant Stubby, a pit bull mix. He was responsible for single-handedly catching a German spy, as well as warning troops of mustard gas attacks and bombs before humans could detect them. He also rescued several wounded soldiers. Gray asserted that pit bulls, like any other creature, are products of their environment.
“Dogs take what they are given by their owners, or the lack thereof,” Gray said.
Tony Waitzman, another Clay resident, presented the city council with a petition against the ordinance that included 443 signatures. The city council could have a modified ordinance to consider at its July 1 meeting. Councilman Ricky Baker and City Attorney Alan Summers agree some changes need to be made to the ordinance as it stands.
“We need to look at it and see what can be changed and make it more palatable to everyone in the city,” Baker said.
While none of the scheduled speakers agreed with breed specific legislation, most agreed that some form of vicious dog ordinance was a necessity.
“I concur with the city council that there are dangerous dogs,” Phil Doster with the Greater Birmingham Humane Society said. “Every breed has its good and bad representatives.”
Doster said the most effective way to reduce aggression in dogs is by requiring all pets be spayed or neutered. He also noted that Clay does not currently have a leash law. These two requirements, he said, should be the cornerstone of dog legislation.
Clay resident Carolyn Chambers pointed out one major inequality in the law. Her dog is given a run through Cosby Lake Park every morning. She will no longer be able to continue this without muzzling the dog. She notes that her other dog, a lab, would be allowed out without a muzzle.
“My dog cannot go in the front yard without being muzzled,” Chambers said.
Councilman Kevin Small thanked all the scheduled speakers for presenting their arguments in a calm, rational and heartfelt manner, and assured them the issue of changes would be looked into. He also chastised members of the audience for becoming argumentative, insulting, unruly and threatening.
“If you have a case, you don’t result to threats and insults,” Small said.