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City Leaders Outraged Over Law That Allows Pit Bulls To Be Unmuzzled

BOSTON (CBS) - City leaders in Boston are outraged over a new law that will allow pit bulls to be unmuzzled in public in the city.

The new animal rights law signed by Governor Patrick bans any breed specific rules and regulations, which mean pit bulls can't be singled out.

The new law goes into effect in November.

City Councilor Rob Consalvo, who worked to pass the ordinance in 2004, says he was stunned when he found out what happened. He says, "I think the state made a huge mistake passing a law that would wipe out ordinances to deal with dangerous pit bulls."

Consalvo says, "We know what's best for the city of Boston, and we know what tools are in place to deal with serious public safety issues."

He says not every pit bull is a danger, but they, "Attack at a far greater rate, they injure at a far greater rate, they attack humans and animals at a far greater rate, and they attack differently."

"There is no evidence to support that breed specific ordinances work," said Reginald Zimmerman, spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources' Division of Animal Health. "The animal control bill is designed to be breed-neutral and work on a case by case basis to prevent good owners and good dogs from being punished unfairly."

Martha Smith-Blackmore, the director of Veterinary Medical Services for the Animal Rescue League of Boston, says rules should be based on individual dog behavior. She explains, "Having legislation or regulations that is based on what a dog looks like does not get to the root of the problem."

She says several breeds of dogs are considered pit bulls, saying, "The science is out there that shows we can't reliably predict what a pit bull is based on what it looks like and what the genetics are. The dogs are being labeled not for what they really are, nor for what their individual behavior is."

According to Consalvo's office, Boston Animal Control reports 60 pit bull attacks in 2008, 67 in 2009, 52 in 2010 and 47 in 2011. Animal Control officers say they over the past two years, between 38 and 40% of all dogs rescued and impounded over the past two years are pit bulls.

The city can ask the state for a home rule petition, which would make them exempt from this part of the law. Consalvo and Mayor Menino plan to do that.

Smith-Blackmore says, "I think that would be unfortunate. There would be ways we could build ordinances that are fair for the individual dog owner."

Consalvo says people in the neighborhoods have asked for the rules, and he says the numbers back up his ordinance.

The new law also includes many other measures in addition to the breed specific part of the legislation.

Kara Holmquist, Director of Advocacy, MSPCA-Angell, says "While the breed-neutral elements of the law have recently captured some media attention, we feel it's important for community leaders and government officials, as well as pet owners, to realize just how many other animal protection measures are included in this comprehensive bill – and how many organizations and individuals worked on it for more than 6 years. Importantly, the new law also includes a Homeless Animal Prevention and Care Fund, paid for by voluntary donations, that will fund mandatory training for animal control officers—which will help enforce all of the animal control laws relating to public safety and others, including ensuring animals in municipal facilities will receive optimal care. The Fund will help fund spay and neuter surgeries—preventing the birth of thousands of unwanted cats and dogs. Also, pets will be able to be included in domestic violence restraining orders—ensuring that victims of domestic violence will not feel forced to stay in an abusive relationship out of fear for what may happen to their pets. This new law is an animal welfare milestone and deserves to be celebrated as such."

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