On Thursday, Gov. Deval Patrick signed a wide-ranging animal control bill (S2192) into law. Among its provisions is one that reads: “No city or town shall regulate dogs in a manner that is specific to breed.”
The law, which goes into effect in October, places Massachusetts in a group of 13 states that prohibit breed-specific legislation.
So, what does the Governor’s signature mean for breed-specific legislation in Lowell and other communities including: Amesbury, Boston, Canton, Everett, Haverhill, Lynn, Medway, Whitman, Worcester, Rockland, and Winthrop?
As you may recall, last year, after two years of passionate debate regarding how to handle the issue of aggressive dogs, the Lowell City Council, in a 5-4 vote enacted the Responsible Pit Bull Ownership Ordinance.
The ordinance stipulates that, with the exception of puppies less than 9 weeks old, no more than two pit bulls can be registered at any household. Pit bulls must also be spayed or neutered.
Additionally, pit bulls off their owner’s property must be muzzled unless the dog completes a training program from a facility or instructor possessing a nationally accredited certification in dog training.
In June 2011, City Councilors Kevin Broderick, Edward “Bud” Caulfield, Franky Descoteaux, Rodney Elliott and Bill Martin supported the ordinance. Then-Mayor James Milinazzo and Councilors Joe Mendonca, Rita Mercier and Patrick Murphy voted in opposition.
Both the MSPCA and Lowell Humane Society opposed the breed-specific legislation, urging the city to focus instead on enforcing the dangerous-dog ordinance that was already in place, a stance echoed by Milinazzo and now-Mayor Murphy.
The dangerous-dog ordinance was not breed specific and introduced penalties after dogs have already attacked or attempted to attack humans or other dogs.
Mike Keiley, Director of the MSPCA’s Noble Family Animal Care and Adoption Center at Nevins Farm in Methuen, said he is under the impression once the law goes into effect in 90 days, the Lowell pit bull ordinance will be nullified.
Assistant City Solicitor Eric Slagle said a preliminary review of the bill supports that conclusion.
Keiley, who also serves of the Lowell Animal Advisory Committee, said there is not enough data to show if the ordinance was effective because it has only been in effect for a year, but the general thought is it has not had much of an impact.
“There are still a large number of stray dogs and many that have not been spayed or neutered,” he said, adding he favors enforcing the city’s dangerous dog laws. “Dangerous dog bylaws cover all dogs from pit bulls to Chihuahuas; when they are enforced the pit bull issue becomes an after-thought.”
Keiley added the lengthy discussion regarding the dog issue in Lowell did result in one very important change – placing animal control under the Police Department rather than the Department of Public Works.
“There is now more accountability and structure, which makes it easier to enforce the existing laws,” he said. Slagle said the Law Department will further review the new law and what it means for the city.