Making choices on ‘dangerous dogs’

Anyone has the right to own a pet. But everyone has the right to be protected from other people’s pets - especially when what should be “Man’s Best Friend” turns into “Public Enemy Number One.”

In the City of Boston, we continue to have problems with vicious pit bulls wreaking havoc on our city streets. Every year data collected from the city’s animal control department consistently shows that pit bulls attack both humans and other dogs at a far greater rate than any other breed. The statistics simply don’t lie.

Years ago, in order to address the danger associated with vicious pit bulls, I authored an ordinance that doesn’t ban the ownership of pit bulls, but it does require owners to responsibly control their dogs and protect their neighbors and their pets. The ordinance requires pit bull owners to muzzle these potentially dangerous dogs whenever they are on public property. It limits the number of pit bulls a Boston resident can own to two and requires owners to mark all entrances and exits on private property where these dogs are kept, clearly warning that there is a pit bull on the premises. And, equally important, it requires that all pit bulls be spade or neutered to discourage over breeding and to reduce their aggressiveness.

Last year, without consulting any cities or towns, the State Legislature passed a law prohibiting breed specific legislation effectively wiping out Boston’s pit bull ordinance. Our public safety personnel and animal control officers now have one less tool to deal with this explosive situation. This one size fits all approach is bad legislation and is wrong for Boston. Boston, and all local cities and towns, should have the right to decide what works for them to keep their citizens safe. We listened to our constituents, our public safety officials and our animal control experts who all asked for Boston’s very important law controlling pit bulls. State government should do the same.

Recently, I filed two bills for consideration with the Legislature to help reverse this action. The first bill would allow any city or town in the Commonwealth to have breed specific legislation as long as it is voted on by the local governmental body and is data based. This would allow cities and towns to decide if any breed specific legislation is right for them. The second bill would allow the City of Boston to collect the fines of unpaid animal control violations as part of a person’s property tax or excise tax. Currently, we collect less than 25% of all animal control violations each year. By doing this, we will hold irresponsible pet owners accountable for the actions of their animals as we heard loud and clear that we should be doing.

The Boston City Council doesn’t like to intrude in the private lives of Boston citizens. But when the private choices of residents – like their choice of a pet - intrudes on the public safety, then it’s up to city government to act. Boston is a great city in which to live, work, raise families - and even own pets. But let’s make sure we protect people from some of those dangerous pets – especially when all the evidence suggests this kind of protection is necessary.

Rob Consalvo represents District 5 on the Boston City Council.