By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Tuesday’s defeat of a controversial pit bull ordinance leaves the city in limbo as leaders ponder an alternate solution to the community’s pet woes.
It’s anybody’s guess, though, how that will happen since City Council members appear divided on whether to search for an answer or give up.
“I’ve washed my hands of it,” said council President Fred Pitts on Wednesday. “The only way anything will ever pass is if we cave in and do exactly what (opponents) want.”
Opponents, including veterinarian Stephen King and Tupelo Canine Club member Tere Woody, want the city to adopt measures without singling out specific breeds like pit bulls. They said that kind of ordinance unfairly punishes responsible pet owners and doesn’t work anyway.
Pitts countered that numerous cities have passed similar ordinances with good results. Tupelo itself has had a breed-specific ordinance since 1988. It classifies pit bulls as dangerous and requires owners to register them with the city, and keep them penned and leashed at all times.
The city was poised to amend that ordinance with stricter regulations for pit bull owners, like a requirement they be at least 21 years old and carry at least $100,000 in liability insurance.
It died because no one made a motion to vote on it.
Ward 3 Councilman Jim Newell said he wants to start the process from scratch and appoint volunteer task force comprised of pet owners and animal experts to study the topic and make recommendations.
If that happens, it will be the second such task force in five years. The first one, appointed during the previous administration, extensively studied Tupelo’s pet population, leash laws and animal control enforcement. Headed by then-Ward 2 Councilman Thomas Bonds, the group also made several recommendations. But they went nowhere.
Pitts predicted a similar scenario and said he’ll have no part of such a task force. But Ward 1 Councilman Markel Whittington said he’s open to the idea.
“Now would be a good time,” he said, “to get everybody back together to say, ‘What can we do to get something passed?’”
In the meantime, Tupelo’s existing ordinance remains in effect even though the city admittedly hasn’t adequately enforced it. The result has been a growing population of undocumented and unrestrained pit bulls, as well as other pets, who have driven up complaints to both City Hall and the Tupelo-Lee Humane Society.