Thursday, November 1, 2007

Suggested Letters to DC City Council Members

The below model letter is based on the letter suggested by the ASPCA.

RE: Targeting Dog Breeds Doesn't Work--Oppose Bill 17-89

Dear City Council Member __________________:
As a District of Columbia resident, I urge you to oppose Bill 17-89 ("Animal Protection Act Amendment of 2007"), which the D.C. City Council's Health Committee voted to approve despite the fact that it would threaten the safety of our community's dogs.

Specifically, this bill would authorize the District's mayor to label any breed of dog as potentially dangerous and create a list of such breeds. As a result, not only would anyone's family dog, if belonging to a listed breed, be at risk of seizure if deemed to "pose a threat to public safety"--a phrase that is undefined in the bill--but dog owners would also be required to comply with a host of regulations, including posting a "dangerous dog" sign on their homes and muzzling their dogs outdoors at all times.

Further, dog owners who fail to comply with these provisions would be subject to fines and imprisonment (thereby criminalizing even the simple act of walking a dog on a leash of standard, six-foot length). Although this is not stated explicitly, passage of this bill would authorize the seizure of any dog belonging to a listed breed as evidence of a criminal violation.

Again, I urge you to oppose Bill 17-89. There is no evidence that breed-specific laws reduce dog bites, while there is significant evidence that well-enforced, breed-neutral laws do. In fact, experts in the field have concluded that only breed-neutral laws can keep a community safe.


Here are some additional paragraphs others have sent in that you may want to add to your own letter:


I was was shocked and appalled to read about the breed-specific discrimination provision of the proposed Animal Protection Act Amendment of 2007, especially since that one provision (among some others) smacks more of animal cruelty than animal protection. My hope is that you oppose this bill until the abhorrent provisions are removed.

While I agree, sadly, that there are some dogs that by their individual upbringing must be classified as "dangerous" (only ONE of the 49 Michael Vick's dogs --- all pit bulls --- was so classified, after even PETA and the HSUS were wrong when they said they would probably all have to be put down), we are regressing to the dark ages of animal welfare by classifying all dogs within a specific breed as such. More than that, we would be overlooking and postponing solving the fundamental problem of responsible ownership of dogs, while individual innocent dogs suffer the cruel restrictions imposed on them by the discrimination provisions of the proposed Act.

I am also concerned about the administration of the Act, which I assume would be turned over to the Department of Health (DOH). The DOH's track record with regard to animal welfare is not only poor, but it is against their charter, which is to protect people from animals and not the other way around. What I have heard, the DOH has no one qualified on its staff to know the difference between a dangerous dog and simply dog acting as a dog, and dogs are suffering cruel death s every day because of this.

The city's time and money needs to be spent on getting to the issue of responsible ownership of dogs. The proposed provisions of the Act do not get to this at all. Indeed, they regress. Moreover, they will create a nightmare of an enforcement problem, which will take away still more precious resources while the real problems remain unresolved. Finally, the enforcement problems will cascade further once pit bulls (the obvious primary target) are declared dangerous, as the irresponsible owners turn to Rottweilers and then other large breeds. They might as well call this Act what it will turn into: "The Death Penalty for Large Breed Dogs Act."

I thought legislation such as is proposed is supposed to be based on science, analysis and thoughtful reflection. This act is not. It is based on someone's shooting from the hip, in this case, hitting innocent dogs and responsible pet owners. Moreover, it will create division in the community the likes of which we have not seen before among pet owners.

Becasue of the many charity events put on by its animal control contractor (The Washington Humane Society), the District likes to view itself as a humane city for animals. To be sure, the over-worked and under-staffed Humane Society has reduced the suffering of many animals, but under policies handed to it by the city. However, that single breed-specific provision in the proposed bill is just another example of where the city has yet to fully understand that it has a long way to go to catch up to the progressive cities and reduce --- and not increase --- animal suffering. ( The cruelest example is where the city's animal control contractor says that it has a "no kill" policy for animals evaluated as adoptable, but doesn't say that no put bull is ever evaluated for adoptability. As the result, tens of pit bulls --- puppies included --- are killed each day in the District of Columbia, just up the road from the nation's Capitol.)

SEE NEXT POSTING (Reasons to Oppose 17-89) FOR ADDITIONAL THINGS YOU MIGHT INCLUDE IN YOUR LETTERS/MESSAGES/CALLS. IF ANYONE HAS ADDITIONAL WORDING TO SUGGEST, PLEASE SENT IT IN A COMMENT AND IT WILL BE POSTED.

Suggested Postcard/letter to City Council Members

Dear City Council Member _________________________

I am writing to you to express my opposition to the breed-specific provision in the proposed "Animal Protection Act Amendment 2007" (bill 17-89). This provision does not serve animal protection, it promotes animal cruelty. Moreover, it is well known that dog bites (the health problem that seems to be motivating this provision) occur not because of breeds but because of irresponsible ownership and stewardship of dogs. That is the problem that the city needs to address.

There are other reasons I am against this provision, but the above will do for the time being.

Please vote to remove this provision from what might otherwise be a sound piece of legislation, ov vote against the bill entirely.

Thank you. __________________________ (Signature)


16 Reasons to Oppose 17-89

Proposed bill 17-89 gives the D.C. mayor the authority to declare any breed of dog "dangerous," but does not specify any guidelines for doing so.

DO NOT ASSUME THAT THIS BILL IS MEANT TO GET ONLY A PIT BULL DOGS, A SERIOUS AND UNETHICAL MISTAKE IN ITSELF. THE FACT IS, NO ONE KNOWS WHERE IT LEAD AS NO OTHER MUNICIPALITY IN THE COUNTRY HAS SUCH A POORLY WORDED, VAGUE, BROAD LAW ON ITS BOOKS.

While there may be certain good elements of animal protection in 17-89, unless the language on the breed-specific prohibitions and restrictions is removed entirely, the entire bill should be opposed for the following reasons:

1. This provision has absolutely nothing to do with purpose of the bill, animal protection. Indeed, it is an extreme form of animal cruelty as innocent dogs will be subjected to extreme measures and maybe even killed under this bill.

2. This provision represents an example of the most abhorrent kind of discrimination and denial of due process. (The human analog is so despicable it is unspeakable.)

3. There is no such thing as a breed of dog that is dangerous per se. There is absolutely no scientific basis anyone has come up with that proves that one breed of dog versus another is more dangerous than another.

4. This bill, with its abhorrent discriminatory provision, overlooks the real fundamental problem of truly dangerous dogs, that is, irresponsible owners. That is where the focus of this bill should be. The longer the city strays from that focus, the more animals will suffer in this city. The city has failed to solve this problem in the past, and is now trying to make up for that by extreme measures that will only worsen things and add to suffering.

5. This provision was sneaked into the professionally-drafted, well-intentioned animal protection bill behind the scenes, as the result of --- speculation has it --- the pet-project of a single city council member who has been trying unsuccessfully for years to ban pit-bull dogs and related mixes from the city . If this is correct, this simply would not be right or ethical.

6. The responsibility for administering this provision would be turned over to the Department of Health (DOH), which is responsible for protecting people from animals and not protecting animals from people. In fact, while the DOH's track record in human health matters is good, its' track record in animal welfare policy is not exactly known to be animal-friendly. How, therefore, can it be trusted with determining whole classes of dangerous dogs when it has already clearly shown that it cannot distinguish between a truly dangerous dog and a dog simply being a dog, as happened in a recent well-publicized case? It is not chartered or staffed to administer effective animal welfare and its contractor, the Washington Humane Society, is powerless to recommend change.* (As an example, recall the recent oppressive restrictions they tried to impose for establishing dogs parks in the city which, before they were overturned as the result of a pubic outcry, would have ruled out any dog parks.) The Department of Health is chartered for protecting human welfare and not animal welfare. We, the public, have to speak up for our animals, indeed, all animals.
* In fact, the irony of this provision is that the new head of the Humane Society herself has a pit bull dog.

7. If the experiences of other municipalities are any guide, this provision would be just the first step on a long slippery slope toward much more stringent and unwarranted animal control measures.

8. Enforcement of this provision of the bill alone would detract from other more important and more successful animal protection and control efforts.

9. This provision will create an enforcement nightmare as one breed preferred by the irresponsible dog-owners is replaced by another and then another. This has already happened and is the reason why the Pit bull is the breed preferred by irresponsible owners today. (Fortunately, it is also preferred by many, many others who are responsible, and that will save the day for this normally gentle breed.)

10. The oppressive specific-breed restriction in the bill is to all intents and purposes an outright ban on certain breeds of dogs from the city (we already know which breed will be first). Putting aside the ethics and reasonableness of this, the constitutionality of that kind of restriction is highly questionable. The city will without a doubt be called on to devote serious resources to defend this provision when the money could be used on other animal --- or human --- welfare matters. (As some know, regardless of which side you may take, this is already happening with another well-known ban imposed by the city.)

11. Passage of this bill will most likely result immediately in all Pit bull-type dogs being declared dangerous, providing the city with a clear conscious to kill all Pit bulls brought into the city pound without having to evade evaluating them for adoptability, as they now do.

12. Do not assume that just because this provision has survived in the bill so far that it must be correct and justified. Recall, if you will, that the City Council just recently found itself in the extremely embarrassing situation (the "emergency" sale of a city library to a developer without public input) where, because of a public outcry, it was forced to repeal legislation it had just passed weeks before. Fortunately, reason does prevail in the City Council, especially when the public, to whom the City Council is accountable, speaks up.

13. Because of the public outcry that is sure to come about if bill 1789 passes with this obnoxious provision in it, much time and effort has already been and will be spent on this by animal advocates and advocates of good government, all because of some back-room bargaining to satisfy one person's long but myopic and ill-founded quest to ban certain dogs (i.e., pit bulls) from the city by whatever means available. That time could have been spent and could be spent on other worthwhile efforts that would reduce animal and human suffering.

14. To the extent that the breed or breeds selected for the Mayor's list of dangerous dogs are housed mainly in specific areas of the city, if there are unique demographics to those areas, that would at best be unfair, at worst unconstitutional.


15. By the City Council's enacting only the authority for the Mayor to declare breeds "dangerous," this very adeptly passes responsibility (and blame) to the popular Mayor, who will then be the one who takes the heat on this. This is not responsible government.


16. Although the breed-specific provision in the bill authorizes the Mayor to declare specific breeds dangerous, it is well known in the city the individual city council members have more of a say in how agencies do their business than might be desirable for the public's interests.



For those who are not convinced about the harm and suffering that a provision such as is proposed will bring about, just look at what happened next door in Prince George's County, which banned one breed (pit bulls and related mixes) from the county, to see the heart-breaking stories of innocent, gentle dogs being forcibly removed from the homes of responsible people and then put to death. Let's not let this happen in our city. Not in the nation's capital.

If anyone can think of other reasons, please add them in a comment. Likewise, if someone sees any flaws in any of the above reasons, please feel free to comment on those too. Many thanks to those who have already commented in this regard. All your comments have already been included in the above.

Status of 17-89

Bill 17-89 was introduced and a joint hearing was held on June 6. A copy of the bill that was introduced* may be be available on the line (click here). The next step for this legislation would be a markup and vote out of the two committees it was referred to, which are the Committee on Health and the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary. It is our understanding the committee on Health (Member Catania, chairperson) already held a markup, but the committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary has not yet. I’m told the earliest it could happen would be December. Victor Bonett in Councilmember Mendelson (chairperson of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary) is the point of contact – 202-724-8064 or vbonett@dccouncil.us . Victor should be able to give you a status plans for CM Mendelson to move the legislation for a markup and vote by members of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary.

The Committee on Health should have a committee report and print regarding the legislation. The best source to obtain one is with Councilmember Catania (Chairperson Committee on Health). Contact Jordan Hutchinson, Clerk, 202-724- 7772 or jhutchinson@dccouncil.us

Additionally, the Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs (Cheh, Chairperson) Jeremy Faust, Clerk 202-724-8062 or jfaust@dccouncil.us was given comments on the legislation. This essentially means the committee has the option of producing a report with comments relating to the bill – but would not markup the legislation –as the Committee on Health and the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary would need to do in order for the legislation to move forward.

Click here for the DC City Council's website to track legislation**

Click here to go directly to the bill 17-0089 that was introduced*

Click here for the Council’s calendar:

* Please note: The specific-breed provision that is the subject of this blog was NOT in the original legislation that was introduced and so it may not yet be shown in the version of bill currently available on-line. The provision was "quietly" added later in a committee session. Please see the ASPCA's site for a summary of this provision. See also the comments of the various council members, elsewhere on this blog.

** Bill 17-0089 (official number) was introduced in session 17. Enter key words "animal" AND "protection" and it will come up.

This information provided by Councilmember Evans's office.

What Various City Council Members Have Said About Their Position

If your City Council Member has written or told you what he or she thinks about the Breed-Specific Prohibition in the bill, or you other wise know his or her position, please let us know and we will publish that here:

Vincent C. Gray (AT LARGE) -

Carol Schwartz (AT LARGE) -

Phil Mendelson (AT LARGE) -

David Catania (AT LARGE) -

Kwame Brown (AT LARGE) -

Jim Graham (WARD 1) -

Jack Evans (WARD 2) - "thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this issue. I will keep your comments in mind as this matter moves through the legislative process."

Mary M. Cheh (WARD 3) - "I am still hopeful about alterations to the bill. And there is a great deal more to the bill than that provision, so it is worth salvaging. Thanks for your e-mail."

Muriel Bowser (WARD 4) -

Harry L. Thomas, Jr. (WARD 5) -

Tommy Wells (WARD 6) -

Yvette Alexander (WARD 7) -

Marion Barry (WARD 8) -

Other Related Information

It is our intention to include here references to literature and web sites on subjects related to the subject of this blog. While we are doing our own research, if anyone knows of any such literature or web sites, please send us a comment in that regard.

About this Blog

This blog was created by concerned DC residents (none of whom, by the way, owns a pit bull or pit bull mix dog, the immediate targets of the breed-specific provision in 17-89). Our concerns are not only about the specific abhorrent breed-specific provision of what otherwise could have been an acceptable bill, but with the subject of responsible governance in the nation's capital.



Because of the importance and urgency of his matter, it is possible that items in this blog are incomplete or inadequately or even unfairly expressed. If indeed anyone finds that that is the case, the comments of concerned readers would be welcome. In the interests of keeping the content of this blog at a value-adding and dispassionate level, all comments will, of course, be moderated.


This blog, by the way, is organized by the content and not by the timing of postings. Therefore, the "older" postings that are here may change from time to time. When significant revisions are made, the date/time of the postings on the blog will remain the same, but a date/time stamp will appear in the posting itself.


Extraneous material related to this blog will be published in various numbered appendices at the bottom of this blog.


Thank you for visiting this blog and for caring about the underlying issues

APPENDICES

There are no appendices at this time. Suggestions for the content of an appendix would be welcome.