Earlier this year legislation was passed in Rhode Island that prohibits any municipality from enacting a breed discriminatory law.
Pawtucket is one of the places in Rhode Island with a breed discriminatory law. A ban on pit bulls and dogs resembling pit bulls, was enacted in 1994. As is typical with places that have long-standing breed bans with entrenched officials, Pawtucket has been lauding the success of their ban for sometime. However, a simple google search brings plenty of results of dog related issues. Even officials assertion that bites by targeted dogs have been reduced is questionable considering that with a ban there should be no attacks by targeted dogs and many people have dogs that are labeled as other mixes instead of being put under the legislative catch-all “pit bull.”
Any attacks go to the fact that there are those in the community who do not operate control over their dogs, and those that do. The ones who do not, get attention. The ones who do, slide under the radar living peacefully with their targeted dogs.
As soon as the bill began making the rounds, officials from Pawtucket went on the offensive.
During the passage of this legislation officials from Pawtucket tried to derail the process in several ways. They tried, unsuccessfully, to have the bill voted down. They tried, unsuccessfully, to amend the bill to include a grandfather clause that would allow municipalities with existing laws to keep them and, finally, they tried a plea to the Governor to not sign the bill into law, which was also unsuccessful.
The legislation passed comfortably and the Governor then signed it.
The failed attempt to include a grandfather clause is particularly interesting. Pawtucket is now arguing that the legislation does not affect places with breed discriminatory laws already in place. If it was the intent of the law makers to allow places to keep existing breed discriminatory laws, the grandfather clause amendment would have been accepted. However, the legislation as worded does not specify if it is retroactive, leaving the issue open to litigation.
One resident is now challenging the assertion that Pawtucket is within their rights to keep their ban. A suit has been filed on behalf of Albert Alix, who was issued a citation for a violation of the ban after the dog, Chubs, escaped the yard. There was no bite that occurred.
It is the city’s position that, because the law does not say that it is retroactive, they are allowed to keep their ban. Officials have admitted that the legislation is not clear and that their ban is open to legal challenge.
Mark Morse, the lawyer representing Alix and Defenders of Animals, a local animal welfare group, stated in an interview that the suit asks the court to declare the city ordinance invalid because it is inconsistent with the new state law the prohibits breed discrimination.
This case will clarify the law, unless legislators address the issue before then.
Either way, we will be watching the case carefully and updating as needed.