Pit Bull Owner Files Lawsuit Against Town’s Ban

A pit bull owner and an animal-defense group have filed a lawsuit in Superior Court that challenges Pawtucket’s ban against pit bulls.

The lawsuit filed by pit bull owner Albert Alix, 61, of Pawtucket, and Defenders of Animals asks the court to determine the validity of the city’s ordinance forbidding ownership of the breed, pit bulls.

Earlier this year, legislation was passed in Rhode Island that prohibits any municipality from enacting a breed discriminatory law.

Mark A. Morse, a Providence attorney, represents Alix and Defenders of Animals, says the lawsuit asks the court to make a declaration that the city ordinance is invalid because it is inconsistent with a newly passed state law forbidding cities and towns from breed-specific bans on dogs and cats.

As reported in The Providence Journal, “We are trying to make sure that this particular ordinance enacted by Pawtucket is not enforced because it’s invalid,” Morse says.

Tony Pires, a Pawtucket’s director of administration and public safety director, said the ordinance has been in effect since 2004 and the city argues it is exempt from the more recent state law or ‘grandfathered’ in. Governor Lincoln Chafee signed Rhode Island’s into law a bill passed by the General Assembly on July 16th preventing cities and towns from banning specific breeds of dogs.

According to a press release issued by the State House, HB5671 provides that certain breeds of dogs cannot be banned in communities based on what is an erroneous impression about a certain breed.

The legislation does not specify that it is retroactive in nature,” Pires said, so the city ordinance trumps the state law. “That was really the solicitor’s view,” Pires said.

The number of pit bull bites has dropped dramatically since the city banned ownership of the breed, Pires said.

Dennie Tabella, director of Defender of Animals, said the ban forced pit bull owners to either leave the city or give their dogs up to shelters. Central Falls, which does not have an animal shelter, also has a ban on ownership of the breed. Tabella said such bans just transfer the problems to another city.

Alix decided to file the lawsuit after the police issued two summonses that charged him with having a prohibited pit bull, failure to muzzle the dog, having a dog at large, having an uninsured dog and failure to post a sign.

‘Chubs’ the pit bull did not bite or attack anyone, Pires said, but pit bulls are banned from the city. His court case on September 20th was continued because Alix planned to file the lawsuit that challenges the city’s pit bull ban. Meanwhile, Chubs is living with Alix.

Alix said he received the summonses in August after his dog wandered from his yard on Harris Street on more than one occasion. One of those times was to a next-door neighbor’s yard where ‘Chubs’ grabbed three of the elderly neighbor’s plastic bunny lawn ornaments and took them back home. Alix said he offered to pay the woman for the damaged lawn ornaments. Another time, ‘Chubs’ crossed the street to the property of a family with young children.

Alix said he’s had ‘Chubs’ for about 20 months since his daughter moved to Connecticut. “He’s been really good. He wags his whole body. No way will I let him go. Now he is a family member,” Alix said.

It is the city’s position that because the law does not say that it is retroactive, they are allowed to keep their ban. Officials have admitted that the legislation is not clear and that their ban is open to legal challenge.

Rhode Island, along with Connecticut and Nevada passed bills during the 2013 legislatiive session that prohibits the passage of breed specific ordinances. Sixteen states now have laws that prevent cities and towns from enacting discriminatory ordinances that single out specific breeds of dogs.

Anyone who has a pet can relate to the way Mr. Alix feels about ‘Chubs’ being part of his family. After almost two years of bonding, it is not easy to give your pet away, especially when there is a law in place banning this discrimination.

Feel free to comment on this blog post.  For more information, contact one of our Gacovino Lake attorneys at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).

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