Westwego — Westwego Councilman Glenn Green says he visits Linda Henry every day, and he’s always amazed at her upbeat spirit despite nearly dying last month when she was attacked by three pit bulls in her home.
Henry, 54, was brutally mauled in an incident that shocked Westwego officials. She lost both arms and an eye during a plethora of surgeries. Yet, Green said, Henry still laughs and jokes constantly on his visits and never mopes about her plight.
But Henry’s recovery and attitude hasn’t eased Green’s anger at the dog attack that maimed her for life. Earlier this week, just a few hours after he honored the police officers and paramedics who saved Henry’s life, he reiterated his plan to either ban pit bulls from Westwego outright, or at least make them extremely expensive to own within the city limits.
“It’s getting to the point now where it’s just getting scary,” said Green, who related a story of watching several children run from a pit bull recently because its owner couldn’t seem to control the animal. “We just can’t have it in Westwego.”
Green’s plan for the animals is still unclear, mainly because he acknowledges he doesn’t know exactly what legal steps the city can take. Henry was mauled inside her own home by dogs that her boyfriend was raising. Mayor Johnny Shaddinger has noted that Westwego has laws that govern how residents must confine pit bulls inside yards, or out in public, but there are no rules about how the dogs must be kept in a home.
Westwego City Attorney Joel Levy said council members have carte blanche when determining the city’s laws and can move for an outright ban or limit how many dogs can be present in a home. Levy said he would need to research what other areas have done before he could make a presentation to the council on the best choice.
Outright bans on pit bulls throughout the country have increased in popularity in recent years as lawmakers have focused on the breed’s capacity to wreak havoc on humans, particularly children. Some animal advocates have noted that dogs identified as pit bulls are responsible for the vast majority of fatal or serious dog attacks.
Several cities in Iowa outlawed the animals, and cities in Tennessee and South Dakota did the same. Broward Country, Fla., considered a ban on the dogs but ultimately relented after a severe backlash from the community. Continental Airlines and United Airlines both ban the dogs from being transported aboard flights, along with eight other breeds.
However, Louisiana SPCA Chief Executive Officer Ana Zorilla said breed bans are the wrong way to address the issue of dog attacks. Zorilla noted that pit bulls have acquired a terrible reputation as vicious and dangerous animals often because of media misinformation about what animals commit attacks. Pit bull has become a catch-all term that’s applied indiscriminately to dogs that bite humans.
“Breed bans don’t work,” Zorilla argued. “You’re going to have a really hard time identifying what is and is not a pit bull. … I often think dogs are classified as pit bulls whether or not they really are.”
Zorilla and several other animal advocates have argued that the best way to limit attacks is to limit the number of “intact” pets allowed in the city, particularly large breed dogs. That means creating laws that require spaying or neutering animals. In 2010, New Orleans required the owners of “intact” dogs to get a special permit in order to keep the dogs, as a well to track and identify potential problem animals.
Zorilla said outright bans on particular breeds encourage a black market and could prevent pet owners from getting the proper care for the animals they have. Green has discussed laws that target pet owners with multiple pit bulls, or a “breeder’s law.” He would like to see those individuals pay a hefty premium to own the dogs, and he discussed reporting their activities to their homeowner’s insurance companies. Green has also talked to officials at the New Orleans Pit Bull Rescue for his plans for the animals.
Zorilla supported a law that would go after “backyard breeders.” However, she cautioned Westwego lawmakers not to overreact to a horrible incident that was highly unusual and unlikely to be repeated.
“While I think it’s great that lawmakers are thinking of ways to keep the community safe … in this particular case I do not think it’s the right approach,” Zorilla said.