Restrictions on "Dangerous" Dogs Would Hurt Pit Bull Owners Most

March 3, 2010 

Q: I know you're aware that Elgin, Ill., a community just outside Chicago, wants to ban pit bulls. I live here, and while I don't have a pit bull, I'm concerned that my breed might be next, or my dog might be mistaken for a pit bull. Any thoughts? -- C.S., Elgin, IL

A: The City of Elgin is not planning to ban pit bulls, or at least that's what local officials are saying. Instead, if a proposed city ordinance is passed, all pit bulls (or dogs the city calls pit bulls) will automatically be deemed "dangerous" dogs. All owners will be required to carry $500,000 of insurance, and each owner's yard would have to have a 6-foot-high fence with locks. Their dogs would have to be spayed/neutered and micrcochipped, and wear muzzles in public.

The problem is, you can no more get $500,000 in insurance for a dog deemed "dangerous" than you can get health insurance if you have a long list of pre-existing conditions. If by some miracle, an owner could find an insurance carrier, the cost would be prohibitive. And many subdivisions in Elgin apparently don't allow 6-foot fencing. Local officials may not call this a "breed ban" but that's exactly what it is.

The fervor was first precipitated by bad guys with bad dogs, including dogfighters, in Elgin. An Elgin caller named Carlos, who owns a pit bull, phoned in to my WLS Radio show in Chicago recently. Carlos said he was a U.S veteran with a disability. He told me he felt he was being treated like a dogfighter and an irresponsible dog owner, yet his dog was friendly and well-behaved.

I understand your concern about your own dog. No pit bull ban has ever made a community safer. I do endorse strong dangerous dog legislation for all dogs - who should be judged as individuals and not profiled. Hopefully, officials in Elgin will reconsider the ordinance.

Q: We've been caring for an outdoor cat for nine years, but now we're moving 15 miles away. We want to take the cat with us, although we're afraid he'll feel lost in this completely foreign environment and might try to go back to the old neighborhood. Any advice? -- N.K., Colonial Heights, VA

A: "Your fear is warranted," says Dr. Deborah Bryant, a veterinarian in St. Cloud, MN, with a special interest in behavior. "The cat may attempt to find his way back to the place he called home all those years. If he's friendly, I suggest you take him indoors."

Of course, if you currently have indoor cats, introducing this new cat could be touchy but it can be done. Just make sure the cat is checked for viruses and parasites (whether you have other pets or not) and then begin a very gradual introduction. The process could take many weeks, even months.

It's important that you create an environment indoors which, in some ways, replicates what life was like for this cat outside. Offer vertical space, cat trees, bookshelves, window ledges, etc. Rotate toys so the environment is constantly changing. And feed the cat in various places, dividing meals into two to four portions so the cat has to "hunt" for food indoors.

A more expensive option is to purchase cat fencing so you can continue to keep the cat outdoors in relative safety. If you have a yard, this special fencing will keep the cat in and most predators out. Be sure there's available shelter with shade in the summer and relative warmth in the winter. And provide water that won't freeze.

(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column. Write to Steve at Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207. Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.

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