Friday, August 11, 2017

TOP STORY >> Last of city’s legal pit bulls

Leader editor

Jacksonville banned pit bulls 10 years ago.

When the ban took effect, residents with pit bulls were allowed to keep them. About 165 were “grandfathered” in, and today only 25 remain.

That doesn’t mean Jacksonville is mostly without pit bulls. “Right now, you wouldn’t even know there’s a ban. We’re picking so many up left and right,” Jacksonville Animal Control Manager Hedy Wuelling said.

Wuelling said the city had 32 bite cases from pit bulls the year before the ban and most involved children.

“Our ban was about the safety of the public and 32 bite cases is a lot and most cases involved children,” she said.

Since then there have been only three bite cases involving pit bulls, Wuelling pointed out.

Most of the 25 legal pit bulls are over 10 years old, so they don’t have much longer to live, Wuelling said.

Defining the pit bull breed is tricky. It’s a catch-all description that includes dogs like the American pit bull, American Staffordshire terrier, American bully and Staffordshire bull terrier.

They were bred for their strength and used in 19th Century blood sports like bull-baiting. Pit bulls have also been associated with illegal dogfights.

Lovers of the breed, like Jacksonville resident Mike Blome, whose now nearly 14-year-old pit bull Lucy was allowed to remain in the city after the ban, believe the breed has had a bad rap.

Blome, a retired postal worker, wants the city to treat pit bulls like any other breed: Requiring them be neutered and fixed and kept up to date on shots.

Wuelling recalled Blome was the first to register his pit bull after the ban.

He said Lucy is docile and gentle and has been ever since she first wandered into his backyard as a stray.

He advocates responsible dog ownership. “If the owner is not going to be responsible, hit him in the wallet,” he said.

“They banned the dogs and didn’t do anything about idiot owners. If you have a dog that attacks somebody, and they have to go to the ER for it, the owner should get one heck of a hefty fine for that or have their driver’s license pulled or something. But reinstate them in Jacksonville. Let people have them for good dogs,” Blome said.

Blome recalled his pit bull’s close bond with his late mother.

“Lucy was granny’s baby. She would sit in mom’s lap in a recliner. Very, very protective of mom,” he said.

“She is exactly what anybody would want in a family pet. She never does anything wrong. Very protective of humans, excellent with kids.

“The great-grandkids would put an M and M between their lips. Lucy would sit down. They’d lean forward, and she wouldn’t take it out until they either said OK or nodded their head,” Blome recalled.

His other dog, Ben, is a 145-pound Rottweiller-bull-mastiff mix he adopted at the Jacksonville Animal Shelter. Those breeds are also known for their occasional violent outbursts. Not his, he said.

“It’s not the dog. More people probably get bit by dachshunds, Chihuahuas and poodles, but they don’t send people to the ER,” he said.

A Rottweiler mauled a Jacksonville toddler Aug. 1 at her home. The breed is not banned. It was her family’s pet.

The child was flown by helicopter to a Little Rock hospital. She suffered lacerations to her head, face and body.

Jacksonville officials will not say where the attack occurred.

Blome was at the Jacksonville City Council in July 2007 when aldermen voted to ban pit bulls.

“I was at the meeting where they banned them. No matter what anybody said, the council was gonna get rid of them, but the way some of those (pro-pit bull) idiots acted in that room that night, I probably would have voted to ban them, too,” he said.