WHEN DOG owner Natalie Wells bought a home in Englewood, New Jersey in 2005, she was unaware that her American Pit Bull Terrier was illegal to own in the city.
Shortly after moving in, she was told by one of her daughters about a breed-specific city law that banned the breed, commonly called pit bulls, along with several similar bull breeds and Rottweilers. Under the 1999 law, even this year’s Best In Show winner at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, Rufus, a coloured Bull Terrier from Holmdel, also in New Jersey, would be banned in Englewood.
In July, Ms. Wells filed a challenge to the law in Bergen County Superior Court along with Mia Rodriguez, a neighbour who also owns a pit bull, and the American Dog Owner’s Association of Castleton, New York. Last month, Superior Court Judge Jonathan N. Harris agreed with Ms. Wells and ordered the city to stop enforcing the law because it was in conflict with a New Jersey statute that prohibits restricting dogs by breed.
The New Jersey Vicious and Potentially Dangerous Dog Act sets out criteria for dealing with aggressive dogs, but prohibits breed discrimination. New York has a similar statute. However, neighbouring Connecticut’s state law does not ban breed discrimination.
Despite such laws, some communities still have restrictions on specific breeds. They range from outright bans to requiring property insurance coverage and the use of shorter leashes and muzzles in public.
The city argued that the municipal law complemented state statute, which was designed to address situations where "existing local laws inadequately address the problem" of aggressive dogs.
The Englewood City Council is due to discuss the law at its meeting on September 19th, according to Scott Reddin, the council president. He said he did not expect the council to challenge the court’s decision.
Barbara Bishop, who owns Rufus, the top dog at the Westminster show, said she was trying to use the dog’s success to highlight the unfairness of breed-specific bans.
"We want to let people know that every dog has teeth and every dog can bite, whether it’s a Chihuahua or a bull mastiff," Ms. Bishop said. "Every dog will be a product of what it’s brought up to do."
Ms. Bishop attributed much of the image problem of the pit bull breeds to people who train them to be vicious, including drug dealers who use them as guard dogs.
"We have Rufus, who’s the top winning coloured terrier of all time, and we still have people stop in the street and say, ‘There’s a pit bull,’ " she said.