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The state of pit bulls in the state of Tennessee

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When Jan Welch toured a potential apartment in the Lafayette, Tennessee area, she asked about pet policies. "Dogs must be under 50 pounds," she was told. "And no vicious breeds, like pit bulls, bull dogs, German sheperds, those types. They're vicious." The apartment manager was echoing what many people in Tennessee believe; now those beliefs have turned toward laws.

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Tennessee has attempted to pass a state-wide ban on pit bulls, to include the 2008 legislation started by Senator Tommy Kilby. The passing of this law would make pit bull ownership illegal, and make it illegal to own dogs whose bloodlines include more than 50 percent of several different breeds such as the American bulldog and the American Staffordshire Terrier. Those found guilty of owning such a dog would be forced to surrender it. This would not only include dog fighters, but responsible owners as well. Kirby eventually withdrew the ban, but the concern over pit bulls has not deterred attempts at bans, and successful breed-specific legislation, called BSL.

Go to any dog park in Tennessee and you will see a sign banning "Pit Bull types." This is because of The Acklen Act of 2007, enforced in Tennessee, which was created to protect people from dog attacks. Legally, owners are liable for injuries if their dog is not under "reasonable control." But how does one define a "pit bull type"? "My dog is part Shar pei and part Foxhound," says one owner. "But because of his mouth he looks like a bulldog. We can no longer go to the dog park, or a lot of places."

According to a study on fatal dog attacks on humans by the National Canine Research Foundation, "one cannot conclude that (dog) attack(s) occurred simply as a result of the breed of dog" and "there are a substantial amount of fatal dog attacks that were 100% preventable." It is not the dog breed that was the biggest contributing factor in the fatal attacks studied, but "unsupervised children … Over 88% of these fatalities occurred" when a child was left unsupervised.

Regarding the BSL, a study on dog breeds and fatal human attacks suggests, "a ban on a specific breed might cause people who want a dangerous dog to simply turn to another breed for the same qualities they sought in the original dog (eg, large size, aggression easily fostered). Breed-specific legislation does not address the fact that a dog of any breed can become dangerous when bred or trained to be aggressive."

In 2013 House Bill 621 was sponsored by Nashville Representative Brenda Gilmore. HB 621 "would require owners of vicious dogs to carry a minimum insurance policy of $25,000 for liability against any injuries inflicted by the dog." Gilmore's amendment defines "vicious" in part as a dog that "belongs to a breed that is commonly known as a pit bull dog." Those opposing HB621 say the people who truly need to be punished, dog fighters and those breeding for viciousness, will not pay the insurance; responsible owners will end up footing the bill and taxpayers will carry the fiduciary burden.

In Tennessee it is a Class E felony to "own, possess, keep, use or train any … dog …for the purpose of fighting, baiting or injuring another such animal, for amusement, sport or gain." Class E felonies are the least serious felonies in Tennessee, punishable by one to six years in prison, and a fine of up to $3,000 (Tenn. Ann. Code § 40-35-111.). Due to overcrowding in jails and prisons, it is likely the offender will receive probation. In a sport where a fighting dog could win its owner hundreds to millions, $3,000 is not a hefty fine.

Is there a future for pit bulls in Tennessee? Or will legislation and mishandling cause responsible people to give up their beloved family pets and fill the already-overflowing animal shelters with dogs to be euthanized? Jan Welch found herself at a local pet shelter to peruse the cats and dogs who pressed against the cages to meet her. She left empty-handed and in tears. "There was a cage of pit bull puppies," she explains, wiping tears. "I can't stand the thought of what could happen to them."

See my website and PLEASE ADOPT, DON'T SHOP!

Yates photo credit HERE

See the slideshow for adoptable bullies in Tennessee!

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