Indianapolis ordinance puts restrictions on pit bull breeds

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Mary Milz/Eyewitness News

Marion County - Eyewitness News has learned of a new plan that would put new restrictions on certain breeds of dogs. A new proposal is aimed at cutting the number of vicious dog attacks in Indianapolis.

Republican councilor Mike Speedy told Eyewitness News he plans to introduce an at-risk dog ordinance requiring pit bull breeds to be spayed or neutered.

It comes two months after Brenda Hill, 68, lost her leg in a dog attack. Two pit bulls attacked Hill outside her Center Township home in January. Her son fully supports the proposal.

Gregory Gilbert says he has "no problem with a ban of pit bulls or no problem with spaying and neutering to lower the population. I'm in favor of anything that keeps this from happening again. It should never have happened."

Mike Speedy also wants pit bull owners to post "at risk dog" signs outside their homes, sterilize the pet and carry $1 million in liability insurance if cited for a non-bite violation, such as letting their dogs run loose.

"You're looking at a cost, if you were to go up to a million dollars, an additional $35-50 cost," said Joe Gonzalez with State Farm Insurance.

That cost is per month. State Farm Insurance says basic homeowners and renters insurance carries coverage for any dog.

"We don't distinguish between what kind of dogs or the breed. That's not important to us as much as do they have one and has it bitten anyone," explained Gonzalez.

Democratic councilor Angie Mansfield says insurance won't do a thing.

"The irresponsible owner who had the dogs that attacked Brenda Hill did not have them vaccinated. He knew the danger. The dog had bitten relatives before. There was inadequate fencing. Why would he go through the effort of getting insurance?" Mansfield said.

Cynthia Morgan with Indy Pit Crew, a pit bull advocacy group, says that's the way a dangerous dog law should be, covering any aggressive dog, no matter the breed or the size.

"Pit bulls aren't the only dogs that have teeth and that can bite," said Morgan.

Lee Carroll owns the dogs that attacked Brenda Hill. Carroll was arrested in February on charges of Failure to Restrain a Dog Resulting in Serious Bodily Injury and two counts of Harboring a Non-Immunized Dog, both misdemeanors.

The council took up a dangerous dog issue three years ago, after a pit bull mauled Amaya Hess. The toddler lost half of her face in the attack and was in a coma for two months. Several reconstructive surgeries have restored her eye, scalp and other facial features, although she will have to deal with more surgeries and physical therapy for many years to come.

Then-mayor Bart Peterson called for a ban, but Indy Pit Crew and others fought the move. They argued that problem dogs are the result of problem owners, and that any dog, not just a specific breed, can be trained to attack.

Currently, a dog must bite someone before it can be declared dangerous, then an owner must post a sign. Also, dogs - no matter what breed - cannot roam free and must be leashed off property.

Little Rock, Arkansas already has such a law, called a "Dangerous Dog Ordinance." The law cracks down on pit bull owners in Little Rock and now there's a push to put a similar measure on the books here too.

"There was a day when you could walk down any street in center city Little Rock, you could see several pit bulls chained up. You don't see that anymore," said Tracy Roark with Little Rock Animal Services.

Roark told Eyewitness News over the phone that pit bull attacks have been cut in half and credits their new law with getting them there.

"This is the most abused dog in the city," said Roark.

The Little Rock law passed last year and requires pit bulls to be sterilized, registered and microchipped. Also dogs - regardless of the breed - are also not allowed to be chained up outside.

"You really got to have a thick skin to own one of these dogs right now, because of the discrimination that's just put strictly on the breed," said Morgan.

She also believes that spaying and neutering is a good thing given the pet over-population, but it shouldn't be breed specific and it shouldn't be mandatory.

She calls laws like the one in Little Rock and the proposal here discrimination.

"A pit bull is just a dog. There's nothing extraordinary about them," said Morgan, next to her 6-year-old pit bull named Rocky.

The proposed law would require all pit bull owners to post a sign showing they own that breed. Owners would have to sterilize their pit bulls and carry $1 million in liability insurance if their dog was caught running loose.

The proposed law will be introduced in Indianapolis next month. Morgan says Indy Pit Crew will fight it.

Gregory Gilbert, meanwhile, just wants to keep what happened to his mother from happening to others.

"This should be the last time it happens to anyone," he said.

(Eyewitness News reporter Emily Longnecker contributed to this story.)