Controversial Pit Bull muzzle law passes in Massachusetts

Tuesday, the city of Malden, Mass., passed a bill requiring owners of Pit Bull and Pit Bull-like dogs to muzzle the animals in public.

Councilman Neil C. Kinnon supports the bill: “The dogs are disproportionately responsible for violence.” (Photo credit: Erica Foster)

This is not the only town in the area that has passed a muzzle ordinance; nearby Everett, Worchester, and the city of Boston also require Pit Bulls and their lookalikes – American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Pit Bull Terriers, Bull Terriers, or mixes – to be muzzled.

After three years of debate, the Malden muzzle ordinance passed in a 7-to-4 vote.

The person responsible for supporting the bill is Ward 6 Councilman Neil C. Kinnon. “The dogs are disproportionately responsible for violence,” Kinnon said. “We have 6.7 percent of dogs responsible for 32 or 33 percent of all bites.”

The vote in favor of muzzles drew serious reaction from both the crowd and the council members.

Those who oppose the measure see it as too broad, something that will punish good dogs and responsible owners.

But Ward 7 Councilor Neal Anderson disagrees. “Too many are walking the dogs on a leash, hoping to intimidate people,” he said, drawing loud jeers from the audience.

Dr. Amy Marder, director of the Animal Rescue League of Boston, responded to Anderson’s comment, saying that if an owner’s intent is to use their Pit Bull in acts of intimidation, then it should be the owner that is punished.

“Take this person who is ‘tough’ with a Pit Bull, and you take the Pit Bull away from that person,” Marder posed. “That person is less scary?”

Marder added that leash laws should be more widely enforced if the goal is to reduce the number of dog bites.

Councilman John P. Matheson cited a high transient population in Malden while recommending a registry of Pit Bulls and their owners. “What we want to do is get everyone with a Pit Bull registered,” he told the passionate crowd. “We have apartment complexes, and people who come in and stay for a few months and leave. If you are a responsible owner in Malden, this ordinance won’t affect you.”

The ordinance is slated to include a grandfather stipulation; Pit Bulls registered before May 1 would be exempt from the muzzle ordinance. Some feel, however, that this would only add to the confusion.

Others, like Malden resident Kathy LeBlanc, are disappointed that their dogs are yet again the targets of breed prejudice. LeBlanc, who owns a 13-year-old black-and-white Pit Bull, brought photographs of her Pit Bull to the meeting with her. “They’re not all bad,” she said, shaking her head in disappointment.