<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=192888919167017&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">
Wednesday, September 27, 2023
Sept. 27, 2023

Linkedin Pinterest

City may debate ban on pit bulls

Boy, 9, was attacked by 3 dogs last week


An unprovoked attack by three pit bulls on a 9-year-old boy near Harney Elementary School last week has the Vancouver City Council ready to debate a ban on the breed within city limits.

Last Thursday, the boy arrived at a friend’s home on East Evergreen Boulevard, when three pit bulls rushed out the front door, chased him across the street and took him down, according to a report by Clark County Animal Control.

He was bit in several places, including his ear, before one of the dogs’ owners ran out, picked up the boy and carried him away from the pack. One of the dogs attacked its owner as he tried to rescue the boy.

The boy, whose identity was not available, is expected to make a full recovery, Animal Control Manager Paul Scarpelli said. The owners, Amy Spring and Ethan Garrett, were cooperative, and were ticketed for keeping unlicensed dogs and could face hefty misdemeanor fines for allowing the three dogs to run at large.

The three dogs, all unspayed females, have been surrendered to the county, Scarpelli said. Two other pit bulls were also in the house at the time of the mauling but did not participate in the attack. It wasn’t clear Wednesday where those dogs are.

Word of the mauling appalled neighbor Christopher Ramsay, who knows the boy. The day after the attack, he sent an email to city council members asking them to forbid pit bulls in city homes.

“Is it going to take some kid getting killed before something gets done?” Ramsay, a local defense attorney, asked Wednesday. “The kid’s lucky to be alive in my opinion. For a fourth-grader, he’s tiny. He’s a tough little guy, but he’s tiny.”

A former resident of Denver, where there has been a ban on pit bulls since 1989, Ramsay said the dogs seem to have a pack mentality that makes them more vicious.

It’s not clear how many people have been attacked by pit bulls in Clark County; animal control doesn’t track bites by breed, Scarpelli said.

At least two city councilors have taken up Ramsey’s cause, and in emails seemed to be supportive of placing a discussion of a ban on the city council’s docket.

The move puts Vancouver at the center of a nationwide debate over pit bulls — a term that includes American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers and Staffordshire bull terriers, or dogs that have those characteristics. Several large cities, including Miami and Denver, and the province of Ontario, Canada, have banned them. In Washington, Yakima, Enumclaw and tiny Royal City also prohibit the breed within city limits.

Language for a law in Vancouver would be crafted by the city council with the aide of the city attorney, so details of what may happen are murky. However, Denver’s law allowed resident pit bulls to remain if owners registered and got extra licensing and insurance. Any new pit bulls are destroyed, unless an owner can give sufficient evidence that the dog is being placed in a new home outside city limits.

Proponents point to pit bulls’ history as fighting dogs, and to tragic attacks that appear frequently in the news. But breed supporters and others call for greater owner responsibility and regulation rather than a blanket ban on what they say can be a very loving dog.

Councilor Pat Campbell said that since the attack, he’s heard numerous horror stories about pit bulls. While he acknowledged other dogs can be vicious as well, Campbell said pit bulls have the size and inbred tendencies to go after people.

“I’ve gotten so many stories that are really graphic here,” Campbell said. “I think this might be one thing that we can do for the community that won’t cost a lot of money.”

Councilor Jeanne Harris said she’s witnessed two pit bulls tearing a cat from limb to limb. She’s not sold on a total ban, but said she’s willing to have a policy discussion on ways to better regulate dangerous dogs.

“It concerns me. I’m not saying this is something I want to do, but it is something we need to seriously look at,” Harris said. “There is no dog’s life worth more than a child’s life.”

Picking on one canine family isn’t a job for policymakers, Mayor Tim Leavitt said.

“I think we’re traveling toward a slippery slope, with us politicians determining what breeds of dogs are most dangerous or should be banned from city limits,” he said.

While pit bulls seem to “have that switch that flips quicker than any other breed,” he suggested more stringent licensing requirements or other regulations instead. “There’s a bigger conversation about responsibility for ownership of pets, and holding owners accountable if they choose to have a breed of dog that is generally recognized as being dangerous,” Leavitt said.

The Humane Society for Southwest Washington is also opposed to breed-specific bans, Executive Director Chuck Tourtillott said. He questioned where a mixed-breed dog would fall under the law, and who would be determining which dog has enough pit bull in it to be banned.

“Are we going to have DNA tests?” he asked.

He said pit bulls were part of a larger category known as “bully breeds,” including Rottweilers, German shepherds and Doberman pinschers. And the humane society adopts out bully breeds only “under very strict conditions” that include stringent temperament tests and the right home conditions, he said.

Still, while what happened last week was tragic, it was due to poor pet ownership, Tourtillott said. “That situation could have happened with a German shepherd or a Chihuahua,” he said.

“We don’t really want to euthanize an animal just because it is a specific breed,” he said. “It’s better off to look at each dog individually, to give animals the benefit of the doubt as much as possible before we make that ultimate decision.”

County animal control has no official stance on ridding the city of pit bulls, but “will gladly assist the city if its elected officials go forward with discussions about limiting or restricting certain dogs as pets,” Scarpelli said.

He said spaying or neutering dogs to minimize aggressive behavior and vaccinating, training and socializing dogs will help prevent harmful incidents and accidents.

Spring and Garrett, owners of the pit bulls who attacked the young boy, surrendered their dogs because of their fears of future potential violence, Scarpelli said. It was unclear, however, if two other pit bulls in the house that did not participate in the attack were still in the home. Neither Spring nor Garrett could be reached for comment Wednesday.

Ramsay, the neighbor who proposed the ban, said that if he had a vote to get rid of the dogs, he’d do it. But more than anything, he’s glad the city’s finally having a conversation about pit bulls in the community.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen here — I just thought I’d throw the idea out there,” he said. “At least now no one can say we didn’t know. If something happens, we can’t sit back and say we didn’t really think about this before.”

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542, andrea.damewood//twitter.com/col_cityhall.