Pit bulls, a bully breed or best friend?

By By Lauren Manary / American Press

Mazzy lives in an undisclosed home away from her family. She has been barred from ever stepping foot in her home again and

must live with a host family. Her town decided in March that she is not welcome in New Llano.

Mazzy (May-zee) is the year-old dog of

Christine Nelson. Because Mazzy is part American Staffordshire terrier —

more commonly

known as a pit bull — she can no longer live with her family.

“When I got her it was on the back of a bunch of little tragedies,”

Nelson said. “It helped me to focus on something different.”

The Nelsons moved to New Llano in August. Christine’s husband, Victor, who’s been in the Army for 18 years, received orders

to Fort Polk as his last duty station before retirement. Christine said they were charmed by the local small towns.

New Llano is often the choice for Army

families that do not live in post housing. The town is close, affordable

and convenient

for families and single soldiers who want a small-town feel. But a

number of people have moved since the town council banned

pit bulls in March.

Under the measure, passed 3-0, no pit bulls or “dogs that have the appearance and characteristics of being predominately of

the breeds of dogs known as Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, or American Staffordshire Terrier” are

allowed in town. Violators’ dogs will be impounded by the New Llano animal control officer.

But Ledy VanKavage, senior legislative

attorney at the Best Friends Animal Society, said the ordinance violates

the U.S. Constitution’s

due process clause because it requires owners to prove their

animals aren’t pit bulls rather than requiring the town to prove

the dogs are pit bulls.

And, she said, the ordinance could run afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which includes provisions covering animals

that aid the disabled. “I really hope someone lawyers up and sues the city,” she said.

Not fully home

Nelson said she was unaware of the ban when she signed the yearlong lease on her house. When she went to get her water turned

on, she said, she was given a letter with all the town rules. “No Pit Bulls or Pit Bull Breeds Of Any Kind Allowed!!!” was

handwritten at the bottom of the page.

Nelson said the mayor told her that if

she got a DNA test to determine the breed of Mazzy, as a sign of good

faith, he would

grandfather her dog in. When the results came back, Mazzy was

determined to be a mix of American Staffordshire terrier, Boston

terrier and boxer. She said the town then rescinded its deal with

her.

According to the ordinance, Matthew

Mulligan, who had lived in town for a year and a half before the ban

passed, could have

had his dog, Steeler, grandfathered in. But he said that after he

tried to pay his water bill at Town Hall, he was accosted

by city workers, who said his dog looked like a pit bull and was

in violation of the ban.

“I told her I have the paperwork that states they are not pit bulls by the veterinarian,” Mulligan said.

He said city workers told him he had to get rid of his dog immediately. Within 48 hours, Mulligan had sold all his belongings

save his bed and his television and found himself without a home.

But not everyone can afford to up and

leave. Nelson said that breaking her lease would cost her $9,000, which

is just simply

out of reach. Instead, a friend who runs a local rescue group has

taken on Mazzy. Nelson said she frequently visits Mazzy,

but that goodbyes are still painful. After some playtime, she

said, the Nelsons return to their New Llano house, which they

will never feel fully at home in. Christine said she has stopped

unpacking her things; most of the Nelsons’ belongings remain

in boxes.

Eight attacks

The pit bull ban was passed in response to a series of attacks perpetrated by the same breed of dog, Mayor Freddie Boswell

said at the Nov. 19 town council meeting. He said eight attacks occurred in the two months before the ban — one involving

a 2-year-old child who was maimed and is now cognitively impaired.

The American Press requested records on the attacks from the New Llano Police Department. The city instead referred the newspaper to resident

Valencia Watson, whose 12-year-old son was attacked by a dog.

Watson said she and her son were doing

their normal Saturday routine, getting up late and cleaning house, when

he asked to

take out the trash. Moments after her son went outside, she said,

she heard him cry out for help. “I heard screams from him,”

Watson said. “A mother knows.”

Her son’s face and leg had been bitten.

Doctors said he would need surgery on his leg and plastic surgery on

his face, and

they were worried his vision in one eye would be lost. He was

released from the hospital after three days, but he missed nearly

a month of school because of the attack.

“He’s doing a lot better now,” she said.

Watson said she was unable to get a

good look at the dog because she was more concerned about the health of

her son. She said

her neighbors told her they had not yet found the dog that

attacked the boy. The town would release no other information on

the dog attacks or the victims.

‘Maybe we’ll change it’

New Llano residents and pit bull breed supporters crowded the town council meeting Tuesday. Those who wished to speak were

allotted two minutes to address officials, although only a handful were given the chance before the regular meeting began.

Two people were escorted from the meeting, including Mulligan, as ordered by Boswell.

Resident Kelly Moore said she knows two families that would like to live in New Llano but do not because of the pit bull ban.

Councilwoman Carolyn Todd told the crowd that if they had shown up in similar numbers on the night the ordinance was considered,

the measure likely wouldn’t have passed. “All I’m saying is if y’all have this much concern about an issue on a night that

it steps on your toes, why is it so hard for y’all to come in here on the fourth Tuesday of every month and let us know?”

she said.

Still, Boswell said the ordinance is not set in stone. “Maybe after we get this in we’ll see how it goes,” Boswell said. “Maybe

we’ll change it. But you have to start somewhere.”

The effects of the ordinance have been

felt in other parts of Vernon Parish. Amanda Scerbo runs Voices for Fur

Babies, a rescue

group based in Hornbeck. Because of the ban, she said, as many as a

hundred dogs have been euthanized and that her group and

the Vernon Parish shelter are overwhelmed with the number of dogs

they have.

“I’m actually flabbergasted that

Boswell believes that the laws do not affect people outside of New

Llano,” Scerbo said, referring

to the council’s refusal to let nonresidents speak at the meeting.

Scerbo has started a petition at Change.org to ask the council to hold a hearing on the ordinance and consider other solutions.

As for the Nelsons, they said they would happily stay in New Llano if the ban were lifted.