HYATTSVILLE – Animal rights activists joined together at the border of Prince George’s County and Washington, D.C. on Oct. 12 to protest the county’s long-serving ban on the category of dogs that fall under pit bulls.
Representatives from the Humane Rescue Alliance, PCA/Humane Society of Prince George’s County, Best Friends Animal Society and the Humane Society of the United States showed their support in the protest. The ban has been in place since 1997 and advocates say that the rule is antiquated, ill-informed and unfair.
The conversation of removing the ban comes as county officials debate on making changes to their animal control policies. Possible changes may include stricter penalties to those who do not provide care for their animals and the brining of banned animals into the county.
Over 75 people came out to protest the ban, chanting “end the ban” towards the Prince George’s County Council on a median between the District, where pit bulls are allowed, and Hyattsville. According to advocates, “friends” from the council were scheduled to make an appearance but did not attend.
“It is unfair; it is cruel,” Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States said. “It is entirely infective; there is no science and no reason to be doing this. It is mean-spirited and it is misdirected.”
According to county law, no county resident should own, keep or harbor a pit bull terrier. Only those who have written permission to keep the dog for a dog show and police, correctional, security, fire and/or search and rescue service pit bulls are excluded from the ban.
In Prince George’s County, the category of dogs that fall under pit bulls including Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, American Pit Bulls, dogs that have the physical “appearance of being predominantly” those types of breeds and any animal registered as a pit bull terrier are not allowed.
However, advocates say that the enforcement is vague as just looking like one of the pit bull types can cause a dog to be removed from a household. Pit bulls that are found are subject to being euthanized, county law states.
The photos of two similar pit bulls found at the Prince George’s County Shelter were shown during the rally. One was classified as an American bulldog and made available for adoption while the other was labeled a pit bull and not allowed from being adopted. If an animal can be a stable pet in someone’s home, they should be allowed to live in the county, regardless of the type of breed or its physical appearance, activists said.
“We will stand with you,” Block said. “We will stand with our colleagues and we will end this.”
Prince George’s County is the only district in the metropolitan region that has a ban on pit bulls. Last year, the county spent $570,000 yearly on animal control officers, boarding for impounded dogs and euthanizing, Prince George’s Department of the Environment spokeswoman Linda Lowe told The Washington Post on Oct. 7.
The push to repeal the ban started back in 2015 when Amanda Mosher, a resident of Accokeek, started a Change.Org petition to get councilmembers’ attention. The petition finished with 760 signatures but no action was done.
Director of Field Services for the Humane Rescue Alliance Dan D’Eramo spoke to members of the council in the Committee on Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment in a June 13 meeting on how the organization change their breed-specific policy to euthanize pit bulls and allowing to them to be a part of their adoption services.
Published studies from the American Veterinary Medical Association and the National Animal Control Association showed breed has no effect on a dog’s tendencies to bite a person, D’Eramo said. Once the Humane Rescue Alliance changed their policy, the live release rate for pit bulls in their custody improved from 30% to 50% in one year and more pit bulls were being adopted.
Gerrard Sheppard, a former NFL player for the Baltimore Ravens, compared the raising of a pit bull like tending to a garden: if one cares for it, it will be behave and grow. He travels with his pit bull around the state but attempts to avoid the county at all costs.
“That is the same thing with our animals,” Sheppard said. “We have to talk love to them; we have to hug them as soon as we get home.”
Humane Rescue Alliance officials say that they receive calls every day from county residents asking for help to euthanize pit bulls because of fears of getting caught by county animal control. They hope that with the ban removed, pet owners will be able to live peacefully with their animals and remove a stigma from the breed.
“As we experienced at our organization, this ban creates barriers in accessing services and creates a lack of trust in the community for the animal welfare agency,” D’Eramo said. “As a result, critical needs that the agency is there to fulfill are unknown and go unmet.”
Members of the council discussed making changes to the county’s animal control laws in their Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee in their Oct. 10 meeting, according to their agenda.