ANNISTON, AL (WBRC) - Pit bulls won't be penalized for just being pit bulls, and police officers will be able to break into hot cars to rescue animals.
Those are just two of the proposed sweeping changes as Anniston city council members consider updating their animal control law in the city.
Council member Millie Harris, a self-professed animal lover, is sponsoring the ordinance. She tried a few years ago, without success, to ban tethering of dogs, only to run into opposition.
Her latest try comes in an election year, which may or may not change the makeup of the city council.
"If I'm going to get something done for animals, and that is my passion, I need to do it now," Harris told WBRC FOX6 in a wide-ranging interview.
Tethering is also addressed in the proposed ordinance. Harris said she's still against tethering animals to stationary objects or the ground but is willing to compromise and allow tethering that will "make it as humane as you possibly can."
That includes bans on tethered puppies, bans on heavy chains and bans on chains or stationary leashes less than 15 feet.
"To isolate them is not only inhumane, it's also very, very dangerous," said Harris. She said a dog with limited space to move around will become territorial and in turn, aggressive. She said pets should be considered family members and treated accordingly.
The ordinance would also redefine a "dangerous animal" by removing breed-specific legislation, or BSL, from the city's books.
Anniston's current law doesn't ban pit bull terriers, Staffordshire Terriers or Rottweilers, but does restrict them. Among other things, homeowners with those breeds are required to carry some $10,000 in insurance on the animals. It came after a series of highly publicized dog attacks in 2005.
"It has not been enforced," Harris said, "But it is still a very, very backwards way of defining what is a dangerous dog."
Harris adds that research indicates breed has nothing to do with dog bites--other breeds bite and there are plenty of friendly Rottweilers and Staffordshires, she said. And Anniston's image, including its appearance on websites that list cities with BSL, "reflects poorly on our municipality as far as our vision in animal welfare. It is considered a very bad thing."
The new ordinance would change that, removing all references to specific breeds or breed in general, and instead, focus entirely on behavior.
The ordinance would allow police to use tools they already have to unlock cars, to remove animals who could be in danger on very hot days and are closed up in parked cars.
Officers would not have to break car windows, but would still be given immunity from damage claims to the car. Police and animal control officers could also rush the dog to a vet, with the owner liable for vet bills.
The ordinance would specifically define "adequate" food, water, shelter and shade for animals.
"So many times our animal control officer sees one outside just freezing to death, and there will be a torn up dog house in ten degree weather and they'll say 'Oh, we've got shelter.' Well technically there is shelter, but it's not adequate shelter," said Harris.
Other changes in the law:
- Tougher laws against owners who don't clean up after their pets, including a $100 fine.
- Changes language from what Harris calls the outdated "guide dog" to the more general "service animal," to accommodate dogs trained to assist people who suffer from diabetes, PTSD and other issues.
- More restrictions on dogs that ride in the back of pickup trucks, so they won't be at risk if the truck stops suddenly or goes into a skid.
The next regular meeting of the Anniston city council was postponed one day due to the Martin Luther King Holiday, so it will be held Tuesday, January 19. Harris expects the ordinance to come up for a first reading that night.