While City Council Member Peter Vallone Jr. says he loves dogs — he owns a Bichon Frise named Gus Gus, after one of the mice in "Cinderella" — he believes pit bulls are too dangerous to keep as pets.
Mr. Vallone said the city should ban residents from owning pit bulls — a term that generally refers to several terrier breeds. He is calling for the repeal of a state law prohibiting breed-specific legislation.
Overturning the state statute would clear the way for New York City to propose and enact legislation that bans city residents from owning pit bulls. Such bans are already in place in Denver and Miami.
Mr. Vallone is pushing for a City Council hearing early next year on his resolution that asks the state Legislature to repeal its breed-specific dog law. The resolution was written more than two years ago, but has yet to come before the council. Co-sponsored by seven council members, it cites two local dog-mauling incidents and states that the breed is "often a weapon of choice of drug dealers and gangs seeking to intimidate and terrorize neighborhoods."
Last year, there were 3,956 dog bites reported in the five boroughs, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The department does not keep statistics on the breed of the dogs involved, or on the severity of the bites.
Unlike other breeds, pit bulls have strong jaws that can "lock," precluding "a parent from defending their child or their pet" from an aggressive dog, according to Mr. Vallone. "It's our job to get this done before another child's face is ripped off," he told The New York Sun.
The local law Mr. Vallone said he would like to see enacted would not apply to current pit bull owners, emphasizing that no dogs would be forced from their homes. He said he is not sure how it would apply to mixed-breed dogs.
In a study conducted by the U.S. Center for Disease Control, dogs identified as pit bulls were involved in about a fifth of 279 dog-bite-related fatalities during a 15-year period, between 1979 and 1994.
A lawyer for Urbanhound.com, Darryl Vernon, said the "jaw lock" is a myth, and that pit bulls are not inherently more dangerous than many other dog breeds. "Twenty years ago, German shepherds were thought of as dangerous dogs," Mr. Vernon who opposes Mr. Vallone's resolution, said. "Now they're patrolling our borders and sniffing out bombs; now they're patriotic dogs."
Mr. Vernon, a partner in the Manhattan-based law firm Vernon & Ginsberg LLP, said he did not think the state law would be overturned. "If you ban pit bulls, people who use animals as weapons will just move onto another breed," he said.
A Brooklyn-based animal behaviorist who opposes a citywide pit bull ban, Peter Borchelt, said strong dogs such as pit bulls, Rottweilers and German shepherds are generally safe, if they are "raised like pets."
"You get into trouble when the dog is not trained to be nonaggressive," Mr. Borchelt, who has a doctorate in animal behavior, said. "They can become dangerous when they're thrown behind a fence and allowed to become overly protective. You just have to take a few extra steps to make sure the dog is friendly, affectionate, and well socialized."