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Councilman Weiner urges breed specific legislation be delayed

The News Journal


New Castle County Councilman Jea P. Street said he's been overwhelmed by phone calls and e-mails from angry dog owners and animal advocates -- some threatening. But he's not backing down from legislation to be discussed tonight that would restrict pit bulls.

"Their opposition has made me that much more determined," Street said. "They are well-organized, politically astute and just as insensitive and unconcerned about what's going on with youngsters and pets in low-income neighborhoods as any group of people I've encountered."

Council is expected to vote on Street's revision to the animal control ordinance that would put pit bulls in the same classification as a vicious animal. The ordinance would require:

Specific breeds of bull terriers or pit bull mixes to be muzzled while off the owner's property.

A sign on the property warning that such a dog is present.

Owners to have at least $100,000 in liability insurance in case the dog causes property damage or injury to a person or animal.

Street said he wants to protect people from pit bulls because the dogs can be trained to be extremely aggressive and can be associated with dog fighting, drugs and other crimes. In January, a pit bull mix severely injured a 3-year-old girl in an unprovoked attack inside the owner's home in the Oakmont development. And in 2002, a pit bull killed a 2-year-old boy in the boy's Edgemoor Gardens yard.

Councilman Robert Weiner suggested Street delay action until a coalition of dog owners and animal control experts can be formed to find alternatives.

Street said his conscience won't let him wait.

"In absence of other solutions, mine is the only one on the table," he said. "So I'm going forward for those folks who are scared of them, for my friend the mailman on the corner who says a pit bull is a dog they fear, and to send a message to the criminal element, whose primary dog of choice is a pit bull, that it's not going to be business as usual."

The proposed law makes an exception for dogs that are registered with the American Kennel Club, the United Kennel Club, or the Wilmington Kennel Club. Those groups remain opposed to the legislation because it singles out a particular breed.

"We are not against protecting the public," said Martha Doerner, secretary of the Wilmington Kennel Club. "We are against naming certain breeds as dangerous. The Wilmington Kennel Club believes in holding the owner responsible for the dog's behavior. An educated owner is a good neighbor."

Claymont resident Nancy Di Stefano agrees.

She was part of a task force in 2002 that looked at proposed statewide dangerous-dog legislation and said the experience taught her the difficulty in making generalizations about types of dogs.

Di Stefano, who owns and shows Rottweilers, said the neighborhood kids are always in and out of her house. But never without supervision around her pet.

"Common sense tells you that you never leave a child alone with a dog -- any dog," she said. "It's not just about one breed. It's about how people bring up the dogs."

Wilmington is the only municipality in the state with laws specifically governing pit bulls. City residents must be 21 years old to own a pit bull, and the dogs must be registered and kept muzzled while outside. Exceptions are made for dogs that are registered with the American Kennel Club or the United Kennel Club.

Street said he wanted an outright ban on pit bulls but realized it would have a "snowball's chance" of approval by the 13-member council.

"My legislation is conciliatory in nature," he said. "And if it doesn't pass, it's not going to go away. It's not going to go away until I leave office."

Contact Angie Basiouny at 324-2796 or

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