Pit bulls may no longer be mentioned in DeKalb County’s ordinance if a proposed text amendment passes the Board of Commissioners next month.
Marian Eisenberg, zoning administrator, told commissioners April 10 that the intent of the amendment is to remove “pit bulls” from the county’s definition of household pets in the county’s ordinance.
“There are many different breeds of dogs that can be considered dangerous and ‘pit bull’ is just a slang term for four other breeds of dogs,” Eisenberg said.
“Pit bull” is a term that has been used to describe American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers and mixes that include any of these breeds, according to the web site of Shelter Angels Pit Bull Rescue, which has rescued more than 100 pit bulls from the county shelter in the past couple of years.
“The text does not specifically state that you may not own a pit bull; it simply states that a pit bull by definition is not considered a household pet,” Eisenberg said.
“Subsequently, any citations that have been written by code compliance or animal services under this code section have been later dismissed,” she said.
Because ‘pit bull’ is not a recognized breed, “it is not a breed that has a legal definition,” said Burke Brennan, the county’s chief communications officer. “There is nothing in the cold that prohibits owning a mixed breed dog.”
Gary Cornell, the county’s interim director of planning and sustainability, said, “From previous attempts to enforce the county ordinance, the courts have found that there is no [such] breed.”
The purpose of the zoning ordinance is “not to regulate certain breeds of dogs,” Cornell said. “The type of dog is not something that should be in an ordinance.”
The ordinance has “caused a lot of misunderstanding and disadvantages to owners of dogs,” Cornell said. “It became more of an obstruction than anything helpful. It didn’t mean anything.”
“DeKalb’s ordinance says that pit bulls aren’t household pets,” said Rebecca Novak of Shelter Angels Pit Bull Rescue. “What does this mean for DeKalb pit bull owners? Nothing. Pit bulls are not illegal in DeKalb.
“The only restriction in place is that animal control cannot adopt pit bulls out,” Novak said. “If a qualified person comes in and is interested in adopting a pit bull animal control refers them to a licensed rescue group, who is able to thoroughly screen them and do a home check, before allowing them to adopt.”
DeKalb’s Chief Communications Officer Burke Brennan said the rescue organizations perform the home checks “as a matter of course and we can’t.”
The county’s animal services division uses outside agencies to adopt pit bulls because the process is “labor intensive for a variety of dogs that are potentially dangerous,” Brennan said.
Because the ordinance refers to an “undefinable” breed, it has “created the perception of something illegal that is impossible [to make] illegal.”
The county’s dangerous animal ordinance will not be affected by the pit bull change, Brennan said.
According to that ordinance, an animal is deemed dangerous if it “inflicts severe injury on a human being without provocation,” “aggressively bites, attacks, or endangers the safety of humans or any other animal without provocation,” or has been “trained, owned, or harbored for animal fighting.”
The dangerous animal ordinance does not specify any type of animal, Brennan said.
The proposed text amendment is expected to be on the May 8 agenda for the Board of Commissioners.