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Pit-bull defenders: 'Don't Blame the Breed'

Pit-bull lovers urged Medford officials on Wednesday to avoid targeting a specific breed to deal with dangerous dogs in the city.

"The thought that this council is thinking of banning my dog 'Dude' makes me sick," said Jeffrey Pilcher, a Medford residents who owns eight dogs, including one pit bull.

Pilcher spoke before the Medford Police Advisory Committee in a session that drew about 60 people, 30 of whom voiced their opinions. Of those, only one person supported the idea of a breed-specific law targeting pit bulls.

The committee listened for almost two hours while residents spoke on the issue.

The Medford City Council asked the committee to come up with a recommendation by April to deal with dangerous dogs after recent attacks. According to statistics compiled by Medford police and the Jackson County Animal Shelter, pit bulls were involved in about half the bite cases in recent years.

Medford resident Connie Thayer said she was attacked by a pit bull named "Havoc" in 1998 when its owner ordered the animal to kill her.

"The dog was docile until that command was told," she said.

She said she placed the blame on the owner but remained afraid of dogs until she got to know another pit bull named "Cole."

"It was a pit bull that got me over it," she said.

Marvie Boothman, a pit bull owner, said her neighborhood around South Columbus Avenue is filled with irresponsible owners of pit bulls.

She said that many of the pit bulls are not being properly taken care of or have been abandoned.

Medford resident John Rodriguez said he doesn't own a pit bull. "I don't have a dog in this fight," he said.

However, Rodriguez said he walks through Bear Creek Park frequently and sees too many people who allow their dogs of all breeds to run free without leashes.

He said enforcement of leash laws would be helpful in dealing with the situation.

Central Point resident Karen Heyward said she's seen too many instances of pit bulls attacking people or other animals.

She said she remembered one case in which a pit bull attacked and severely injured a small dog. The woman who owned the pit bull then left without dealing with the situation.

In another case, Heyward's sister-in-law was attacked by a pit bull, which had to be pulled off by her brother.

"Pit bulls were bred for one reason and that is to kill," Heyward said. "I'm sure they are very sweet, up until the moment they attack."

Heyward said that when she walks her own dogs, she makes sure she's ready in case another dog attacks her's.

"I'm afraid to go out and walk my dogs unless I'm carrying a gun," she said.

Friends of the Animal Shelter, FOTAS, provided the Police Advisory Committee with information and also discouraged any breed-specific ban.

Leslie Huntington, secretary of FOTAS, said pit bulls are no more likely than another breed to inflict injury. Huntington offered an approach to dangerous dogs that is based on behavior, not breed.

Owners of dangerous dogs would be held accountable, and the penalties for allowing a dog to attack would increase with each incident, she said.

Huntington said she would encourage the city to follow a Multnomah County ordinance.

The consequences for bad behavior on the part of an owner and its dog could require a secure enclosure, owner education, muzzling the animal when off the property or confiscation of the animal.

The Multnomah ordinance would provide for a hearing process, appeal and the ability to declassify a dangerous dog if it is proven to no longer be a menace.

Leslie McLane told the committee there have been many studies that show pit bulls are not the problem.

"Medford, you're blaming the wrong end of the leash," she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow on Twitter at @reporterdm.

Susan Adams attends a Medford Police Advisory Committee hearing at Medford City Hall Wednesday with her therapy dog, Daisy. Pit-bull owners and others said the city should not enact a breed-specific law targeting pit bulls. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch