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Canton aims to muzzle pit bulls

No one

Big Dog
Quincy,MA -- If you own a pit bull, Canton might not be the town for you.

Tonight’s town meeting will decide whether to impose strict restrictions, such as mandatory confinement, special licenses, muzzles and insurance requirements, and create a limit of one pit bull per family.

Initially, selectmen planned to ban the breed, exempting dogs that already live in town.

Selectman Avril Elkort said a situation about a year ago, when three pit bulls kept getting loose and roaming a neighborhood, prompted the new bylaw.

‘‘People are totally petrified by these dogs,’’ Elkort said.

Canton isn’t alone in its attempt to rein in problem dogs, but animal control officers, experts and even those who have survived pit bull attacks say Canton is barking up the wrong tree.

Ban stand

Scott Giacoppo, deputy director of advocacy for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said a pit bull-only ban gives residents a false sense of security and will cost the town in the end.

‘‘What do you do when a German shepherd, Dalmatian, Rottweiller or a cocker spaniel attacks someone?’’

Giacoppo said breed bans have been overturned by courts across the country, costing cities and towns thousands of dollars.

‘‘What you’ll see is pit bull owners lining up to test the constitutionality of the law,’’ he said.

Canton’s animal control officer, Ellen Barnett, said she was not invited to help draft the new code and will argue against it.

In Randolph, town meeting voters next month will decide a vicious dog law ordinance that would put the bite on dogs that attack humans or other animals. The ordinance calls for penalties ranging from muzzling, keeping the dogs in fully enclosed cages and sterilization to tattooing, implanting a microchip to identify the dog as vicious and euthanasia.

Hingham voters last week decided to prohibit any dog that has been banned or removed from any other city or town.

Marshfield, which has been plagued by attacks on people and other dogs over the last two years, has formed a committee to draft a dangerous dog law. So has Brockton.

Boston, New Bedford and New York are among cities that have strict rules on pit bulls and other vicious dogs.

Denver banned the breed in 1989. It is rounding up the terriers and has killed hundreds each year, which has forced owners to turn to an ‘‘underground railroad’’ to get their pets out of the city.

Problems with dog attacks, especially pit bulls, are not just a U.S. problem. The breed was banned in England in 1991 and in 2005 in Ontario.

Aggressive breed

The pit bull has a broad chest, a big head and powerful jaws. The breed has gained notoriety for vicious maulings and sometimes fatal attacks on other dogs and humans.

Popular culture has made them a status symbol and the favored breed of gang-bangers, drug dealers and dogfight trainers.

Nicholas Dodman, an animal behaviorist and head of the Animal Behavior Department of Clinical Sciences at Tufts University, said pit bulls, like many other breeds, have blood lines going back generations that make them more aggressive than other types of dogs.

With proper training, care and a responsible owner, Dodman said they can be ‘‘cupcakes,’’ but countless are trained to be vicious, or stroke an ego, especially for young men.

‘‘It’s an extension of their masculinity,’’ Dodman said. ‘‘It’s almost like packing a gun.’’

Dodman said the main problem in a pit bull attack is that the dogs go for the throat of their prey and don’t let go.

Pit bulls, Dodman said, are not a breed but a mix of bulldogs and another breed, such as a boxer or mastiff.

He said for centuries bulldogs were trained in Spain for use in bullfighting.

‘‘They bite into the nose of a bull and don’t let go,’’ Dodman said. ‘‘The bull could whip them around like a rag doll and they wouldn’t let go.’’

Problems arrive

The MSPCA’s Giacoppo points to Denver as an example of chaos from a breed restriction.

He said it has made criminals out of normally law-abiding residents and monsters out of hundreds of loving and non-violent pit bulls.

Meanwhile, Giacoppo said, the gang-bangers, drug dealers and dogfight trainers - leading owners of vicious pit bulls - relish the ban.

‘‘There’s nothing cooler than having a dog that breaks the law,’’ Giacoppo said.

Some of the Denver problems have already arrived in South Shore towns.

Last year Marshfield selectmen ordered the destruction of a pit bull owned by Marshfield’s Louis Carpenito after several biting incidents.

Carpenito said he will fight the order ‘‘all the way to the Supreme Court.’’

Thomas Rolls’ two pit bulls were condemned last year by Marshfield’s selectmen after an attack on a Labrador retriever.

Rolls packed up and moved with the dogs and hasn’t been heard from since.

Terrence Callahan, who was watching the Labrador for his sister-in-law, said communities have every right to enact dog laws, but limiting them to pit bulls or other breeds is short-sighted.

‘‘If a dog is a problem, look at the situation, not the type of dog it is,’’ Callahan said.

L.E. Campenella may be reached at lcampenella@ledger.com .



Little Dog
I thought it was going to be Canton, GA :eek:

Either way, Canton, GA or Canton, MA...it's still a shame. The article itself makes me want to lose my lunch. Gotta love those experts. Urgh.


It was a bull, not a human... wonder if they know APBT is a breed and has been working beside man for years!

I agree dogged, gotta love those experts.