MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer HELENA
A proposal to ban pit bull dogs in Montana was quickly rejected Thursday, Jan. 22, by the Legislature amid criticism it was an ineffective way to deal with the problem of dog attacks. The plan would have allowed the current owners of pit bulls to register their dog and keep it, but no other pit bulls could be purchased or bred in the state. There would be certain exceptions for dog shows. Critics sharply criticized the proposal and the House Local Government Committee rejected it on a voice vote about an hour after hearing from dozens of opponents. Lawmakers began discussing the possibility of a substitute plan to increase penalties on the owners of vicious dogs, although no firm initiatives were in place for such a bill. The sponsor of the ban, Rep. Robyn Driscoll of Billings, said pit bulls have been banned in a number of cities and in some countries. The Democrat said the state should ban a breed that is responsible for a disproportionally large share of attacks on people. "The vast majority of people that are attracted to pit bulls are attracted to the macho reputation of the animal as a living weapon," she told the House Local Government Committee. Driscoll said her e-mail inbox has been full of insulting messages from people who oppose her idea, including one who called her "the Hitler of dogs." The hearing was packed to overflowing, with the hallway outside the hearing room also full of opponents to the plan. The opponents included dog trainers and humane society representatives who said breed-specific bans don't work, and took specific issue with a provision of the bill that would require the unregistered pit bulls to be euthanized. Troy Kechely, a dog consul tant and trainer from Bozeman, said bad dog owners, not dogs, are the problem. "Lets start focusing on the people who have taken this breed and converted it," he said. Kechely said that one good idea would be to make it a felony crime to use a dog to protect illicit drug activity. He said it is a common tactic among drug dealers who don't want to get caught with a gun. "Let's start looking at the people that cause this problem, that is the owner of the dog." One Billings man who was among the small number of people supporting the proposed ban said he was attacked by a pit bull. Doug Ruebke said he suffers permanent hand damage and had a long stint in the hospital after an attack that lasted several minutes before the dog was called off. "If the owner is not around the only way to get them off is probably a gun," Ruebke said. "They just don't flinch, they just continue to attack."