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Public Vocal For and Against Pit Bulls

ELLENVILLE – The village may seek a part-time animal control officer in light of a recent rash of pit bull attacks, the Village Board decided Monday.

The recommendation by Mayor Jeff Kaplan came after several residents came out in favor of, or against, "dangerous" breeds.

Lucy Muller said a muzzle law would be a good idea, or having male dogs neutered, which she said would calm their temperament. "We shouldn't be intimidated," she said.

Sally Minich agreed. "I have lived here for about 30 years and I've always enjoyed walking and riding my bike, and people would ask me, 'Aren't you afraid of walking?' and I'd answer, 'No, I'm not afraid.' I've never been afraid, but lately I've been afraid." She said she is a dog lover but recently noticed an influx of young people owning pit bulls, and it worries her. She had a dog jump on her recently and realized how powerful a dog could be. "If I'm out walking and a dog jumps on me, there's nothing I could do," she said.

Kim Wolf and Thaddeus Stringer of Stanfordville said they were considering moving to Ellenville but that a breed-specific ban on pit bulls would turn them off completely from the idea. "There is no scientific evidence that one breed of dog will harm someone more than another," Wolf said. "It's the owner that makes a dog dangerous."

Several people at the meeting agreed.

"I have two pit bulls; my brother has a hundred-pound pit bull, friendliest thing in the world," said Miguel Caraballo. "You should go after the owner (if a dog is aggressive)."

Angelo Montalvo said that parents of these young people who own pit bulls should face the consequences if an incident occurs, but he added that he disagrees with a muzzle law. He suggested that after two leash violations, the village should impound the dog.

Building Inspector Brian Schug stepped out of his official position for a moment to tell of an experience he had last summer with a pit bull. He and a police officer friend were in his friend's front yard when a pit bull jumped out of a window of a neighboring house and charged at them. It backed them up against the garage door and there was nothing they could do until the dog's owner called it off. "There's a fear factor that people in Green Acres have now," Schug said. He told Wolf and Stringer that it is pit bulls that are causing the problems in the village, not German shepherd dogs or other breeds. "They (the board) need to be real about this," he said.

Village Manager Mary Sheeley, a local business owner, agreed. She said that a tremendous number of people are congregating downtown with pit bulls and other large dogs, and that it deters customers from shopping at local shops that are already struggling. "You need to control where the dog is and control its actions," she said. She said in Suffolk County, owners are required to insure their dogs. She said the town clerk can require proof of insurance before issuing a license to a dog's owner.

Wolf reiterated that pit bulls are not inherently dangerous, and that resources and education should be made available to owners. "I've been taught that I can't look at the color of a person's skin and know that this person is going to injure me because I heard it on the news that minorities are dangerous," she said. But that is exactly what the board is doing with pit bulls, she said.

Deputy Mayor Raymond Younger disagreed with her. "The purpose of this law is to protect the health, safety and well-being of people in the village," he said. "I think the whole board agrees any dog can injure, but what brought this to a head was the three incidents that happened that allegedly (involved) pit bulls."

Kaplan suggested beefing up downtown foot patrols and enforcing leash laws and the Agriculture & Markets Law, which governs aggressive dogs and their owners.

Chief Phil Mattracion said that officers have been working on educating dog owners downtown with copies of the local leash law and pooper-scooper law.

Bryan Gordon said he thought insuring dogs is a good idea, as it puts the responsibility on the owner. "If your dog decides to do something and you can't control him, it's a problem," he said. Kaplan distilled the hearing down to two issues: Insuring a dog and hiring a part-time animal control officer. The village calls in the town animal control officer when needed, but Kaplan said he felt it was time for the village to have its own.

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