Mayor breaks 3-3 tie to keep Rogersville's pit bull ban

Jeff Bobo • Jun 6, 2018 at 5:30 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Mayor Jim Sells broke a 3-3 Board of Mayor and Aldermen tie twice Tuesday evening in favor of keeping a long forgotten 35-year-old pit bull ban in the newly revised animal control ordinance.

Several Rogersville residents spoke out against the pit bull ban Tuesday, and Alderman Mark DeWitte made a motion to amend the ordinance by removing breed-specific language.

Sells said that even though no local residents spoke publicly in favor of the pit bull ban Tuesday, he has been contacted by many people who agree with it.

DeWitt'e amendment was defeated 4-3, and then the ordinance was approved on third and final reading by a vote of 4-3, with Sells breaking a 3-3 tie each time.

Sonda Price, Brian Hartness and Bill Henderson voted in favor of keeping the pit bull ban while DeWitte, Craig Kirkpatrick and Eloise Edwards voted to lift the ban.

Sells acknowledged there haven't been any recorded pit bull attacks in Rogersville.

"It only takes one," Sells noted.

Why are pits bulls suddenly an issue?

The 36-year-old pit bull ban was brought to the public’s attention in April when the BMA was asked to approve a revision of its animal control ordinance adding a definition for all domesticated animals, not just dogs and cats.

The ban had been approved by the BMA in 1982 in response to a wave of fatal dog attacks nationwide, but it had long since been forgotten and not enforced.

The revised ordinance approved Tuesday identifies the banned breed as being at least 50 percent pit bull, which would have to be verified by a vet.

In making his motion to remove specific breeds from the ordinance, DeWitte said he'd solicited comments and opinions from the public, which was two-thirds in favor of removing the ban,  as well as local vets, who were 100 percent in favor of lifting the ban.

"There's lots of problems I see with this," DeWitte said. "There is no such breed as a pit bull dog. There are breeds that are classified as pit bulls, and if we're going to have to prove that an animal is 50 percent or more pit bull dog, then you're going to have to ... pay somebody to do DNA testing. I don't know that that's an efficient way to do things."

Public comments opposed to pit bull ban

A Rogersville couple told the BMA that although their pit bull is gentle, and their landlord doesn't want them to leave, they will either have to move or get rid of the pit bull if the ban isn't lifted. The couple said the dog is like their child and they can't give it up.

Margaret Livesay told the board the pit bull ban should be removed from the ordinance and replaced with wording that shifts responsibility for pet behavior to owners.

Hawkins County Humane Society board member Dave Toll said pit bulls tend to be more friendly than other large dogs.

"A lot of studies by organizations like the American Veterinarian Association, Center for Disease Control, the National Animal Control Association, and even State Farm (Insurance) have shown you're more effective reducing dog bites by emphasizing owner control, keeping the dog on a leash, keeping the dog in the yard, child welfare education," Toll said. "That's more important than trying to identify a breed."

Jolynn Quillen read aloud an email she'd sent to board members expressing her opposition to the pit bull ban.

"I have been doing some reading about other towns that have tried to ban breed specific," Quillen said. "What I've read are a lot of lawsuits, innocent people hurt by having to turn in their pets, the shelters becoming overcrowded, which will result in most of the pets/dogs being euthanized. Also, people relocating because of the bans."

She added, "I do agree that animals should not be at public city events such as Heritage Days, Independence Day activities, ball games at the city park, unless they are certified therapy dogs. Unfortunately, our little town is a little lacking in animal/owner behaviors, but if we educate them first, wouldn't that be a better solution?"

Quillen: "I just don't like the fact that our government is trying to tell us what we can and can't own. You've got people like this gentleman — that's his baby — and you're going to take it out of his home, take it to the shelter and have it put to sleep."

Sells: "That's not what the city is doing. We're not going to take it away from them and take it up there and have it put to sleep."

Quillen: "That's what will happen."

Sells: "No. That's not what has been said here. (To animal control officer Lee Sexton) You haven't taken a dog up there have you? If it's aggressive he might take it up there. He's not going to take these dogs because they don't do anything."

No influx of pit bulls at the Humane Society

The pit bull ban would be enforced through citations being issued.

Shelter manager Sandy Behnke said there hasn't been an influx of pit bulls being turned in to the Hawkins County Humane Society since public awareness of the ban became widespread in April.

One pit bull has been brought in from Rogersville since April, but it was a stray, and not related to ban enforcement.

Two other stray pit bulls have come in since that time as well from other parts of the county, and there are three that have been there for up to a year.

“Twiggy,” a pit bull that was featured in a photo that accompanied a Times News article about Rogersville’s pit bull ban last month, was adopted by someone who saw the article. Behnke said the other six pit bulls at the shelter are up for adoption as well, and all are friendly and will make good pets.


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