"Bad-Dog" Ordinance -- or "Bad" Dog Ordinance -- Dominates Trenton Meeting

Emilee Winskey (standing) petitions the Trenton City Commission to alter a "dangerous-breed" dog ordinance.

The overriding issue at the Trenton City Commission’s meeting on Monday was: dogs. Dogs were on everybody’s lips as dog lovers, dog rescuers and dog owners packed City Hall for the commission’s usually sparsely attended monthly meeting to press for change in an ordinance regulating reputedly dangerous dog breeds within the city limits. Bringing the subject up was Emily Winsky, who told the story of a pit bull named Meredith she and her husband wished to adopt from a rescue group. Meredith had been in a foster home for 11 months when the Winskys met her and decided to bring her home to their brand-new Trenton home. “We have fallen in love with her,” said Ms. Winsky. Meredith reciprocated the sentiment, and the Winskys human and canine were set to become a happy family when, in filling out the rather detailed application required by the dog rescue group, Ms. Winsky discovered that Trenton had on its books a dog ordinance passed in 2008 that all but forbade city residents from owning pit bulls and other breeds with bad reputations. “If we had known about this ordinance, we would never have moved into the city limits,” said Ms. Winsky. She said the ordinance’s clause requiring pit bull owners to purchase a million-dollar liability insurance policy was not the deal-breaker—“It’s not as expensive as you’d think”—but that the physical restrictions it imposed on dogs made the rescue group unwilling to allow the adoption at all. “The ordinance would keep us from being able to take our dog for a walk,” she said. “It would also require her to wear a muzzle.” She said that in addition to high-security-prison-level fencing and other strictures, the ordinance would also forbid her to transport her dog through the city limits even in a car except for veterinary visits. In fact, the ordinance requires the named “dangerous” breeds to be restrained inside not one but two tiers of fencing, with a ceiling. and obliges their owners not just to muzzle and leash them when transporting them to the vet—they are not allowed to go anywhere else—but to notify City Hall when that is done. Ms. Winsky and others have circulated an online petition protesting the ordinance, collecting thousands of signatures. Ms Winsky, and others in attendance, said pit bulls and other maligned breeds are naturally loving and gentle and make excellent pets unless soured by cruelty, neglect or imprisonment. They said that the treatment specified in the city ordinance might accomplish that. Another attendee made the point that “pit bull” is not actually a breed but a general descriptor encompassing several varieties of dog. Stories of heroism and tenderness on the part of accused breeds were told. “Nobody’s done their homework on these breeds,” said one woman. Audience members recommended the Winskis as responsible pet owners. Meredith also comes with a letter of recommendation. The city commission listened at some length to these comments before answering. First was Terry Powell, under whose title of Parks and Recreation Commissioner animal control falls. His initial response was to defend the ordinance as it stands. “I did a lot of research,” he said. Powell said his research had yielded 33 fatal pit bull attacks and 459 disfigurements. The dog advocates argued he’d probably found those figures on the Internet, not generally known for its accurate statistics. Had any of these deaths and disfigurements occurred in Trenton? they asked. “No, because we have an ordinance,” said Powell.

But Powell’s intransigence was not echoed by the other commission members, who promised to look at the ordinance and try to modify it to allow responsible pet owners to live happily with their animal companions in the city limits. “I want you to have the dog,” said Mayor Case, who identified himself as a dog person. “I really do.” “Dogs are what you make them,” said Fire and Utilities Commissioner Jerry Henegar agreed with the no-bad-breed contingent. Henegar said he had three dogs of his own. “Don’t cry, sweetie, we’re working on it,” said Police Commissioner Sandra Gray. And Streets Commissioner Monda Wooten, herself a longtime dog rescue activist, seized the opportunity to bring attention to what she described as Trenton’s inhumane and primitive animal control situation. “It’s never even mentioned,” she said. “It’s like the big doo-doo hidden secret.”

Commissioners disagree: Monda Wooten (right) used the ordinance flap as a springboard for bringing up the city's primitive animal control practices, while Terry Powell (foreground) defended the status quo. "I feel like you're rolling your eyes at me," she told him. Also pictured is Commissioner Sandra Gray.

Ms. Wooten was disinclined to keep it secret herself: Trenton does not allow rescue groups to work with the animals it impounds, she said; it does not register them or allow prospective adopters to see them. It merely holds them for a while before transporting them to Walker County to be euthanized. “To say we are behind the times is an understatement,” she said. Mayor Case and Commissioner Powell brought up the matter of the city’s liability for pound visitors, and argued that a long-awaited new animal shelter in Dade County must materialize before much positive change could occur in that regard. But as for the breed-specific ordinance, the mayor and commissioners in the end all showed willing to work with the dog advocates on that immediately, inviting them to look at the ordinance and submit their objections and proposed changes to the language. The commissioners will consider the proposals and how to alter the ordinance as early as Friday evening, when they will convene for a special called meeting and work session at 6 p.m. In other business, the commission opened sealed bids for new playground equipment for Jenkins Park. The commissioners will examine the bids and discuss them further at their meeting on Friday. They decided to donate the old equipment to whichever local church or other interested organization might want it and be willing to transport it. If none is, the old equipment will be listed for auction on a government surplus website. The commission also approved SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) funds to replace regulators at one of its sewage pump sites. Eloise Gass of Trenton Tree City reported that on this Friday, National Arbor Day, the group will plant a red dogwood at Dade Elementary to commemorate years of faithful service by Tree City member Mary Petruska. The planting will be at 10:30 a.m. Police Commissioner Sandra Gray invited the public to attend the annual city/county/highway patrol Law Enforcement Appreciation Day ceremony at noon on May 3 in the large courtroom of the Dade courts facility. Dade Public Library manager Marshana Sharp—newly arrived from Denver, Colo., where she had traveled to accept Dade’s $10,000 prize for being among the three top small-town libraries in America—said she had attended a conference associated with the award and had recognized recommended practices as ones the Dade library currently performs. “I was excited to be able to say, hey, we’re already doing that,” she said. “I guess that’s why we were the ones winning the award.” She invited all to attend the special programs at the library all through April as part of National Library Month. Zach Stone of the Dade Chamber of Commerce said citizenship awards had been bestowed at the C of C’s annual banquet on Saturday. The Planet will announce those awards forthwith.​

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