Transcript Staff Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma could see more attacks by vicious dogs this year, a Cleveland County lawmaker predicted this week; and if those attacks occur, it will be the state Legislature's fault.
At least that's what State Representative Paul Wesselhoft thinks.
A disheartened Wesselhoft said Monday he was "ashamed" that House lawmakers "didn't see the need" for a proposal which allowed cities to outlaw dangerous dogs, such as pit bulls.
And because of the Legislature's lack of action, Wesselhoft said "more tragic stories of dog attacks may occur as a result."
Wesselhoft's proposal, House Bill 1082, would have returned the right to outlaw specific breeds of dogs to cities and towns. The measure also would give county governments authority to approve ordinances regarding dangerous dogs when they see a public health risk.
Earlier this month, the bill received a rare, "do not pass" motion in committee from state Rep. Sue Tibbs.
Tibbs, a Tulsa Republican, told The Transcript last week she thought the proposal was a "bad bill" and that pit bulls were no more dangerous than other dogs.
"Animals are like people," she said. "Some are just bad, some are not. But most are good-natured and take on the nature of their owner." A dog owner herself, Tibbs said her daughter has owned "more than one pit bull" and those dogs "were some of the sweetest dogs that I've been around."
Tibbs' motion, however, didn't receive a second and last week, and HB 1082 found itself in legislative purgatory.
This week, Wesselhoft tried again.
House Bill 1082 was heard again Monday by the House County and Municipal Government Subcommittee and, for the second time, failed to receive support. This, after members failed to second a "do pass" motion made by Rep. Charlie Joyner; the lack of the second effectively neutralized the bill.
"I am ashamed and disheartened that my fellow House members do not see the need for this bill," Wesselhoft said after the meeting. "This measure would not have any influence on people's right regarding dog ownership -- it is just placing authority in the hands of cities and towns to decide what actions they deem necessary regarding dangerous dogs and their effect on public health and safety."
Wesselhoft blamed pit bull breeders for keeping the bill locked up in committee.
"They inundated the Capitol," he said. "With them (the pit bull breeders) there, we can't get the support. They have sent dozens of e-mails and messages to my colleagues. The other side isn't as well organized."
And many of those messages, he claimed, came from out-of-state.
"It's a very strong campaign," he said. "They shut down my bill. Rep (Sue) Tibbs led the opposition. I just hope that when we have reports of more injuries -- and believe me, you're going to be reporting about more injuries -- that those reports go to her. She needs to get the phone calls; I'm giving out her number to the victims when they call."
Wesselhoft, who calls himself the "Oklahoma clearing house for pit bull attacks" has been an advocate for banning the breed since 4-year-old Cody Yelton of Moore lost his arm after being attacked by a pit bull. Cody was visiting his grandfather, Phil Yelton, when the attack occurred.
"Cody was just playing in my back yard when my neighbor's four pit bulls attacked Cody through my fence, tearing off his arm and leaving him in critical condition," the elder Yelton said. "These dogs need to be taken out of the public -- it is fact the dogs will attack for no reason. They're an accident waiting to happen."
Both Yelton and Wesselhoft compared the dogs to a loaded gun.
"By putting a loaded 357 magnum in your back yard, it is only a matter of time before it is used and people get hurt," Yelton said. "It may sit in the back yard for years before anything happens, but then at a moment's notice someone can be horribly injured or killed."
Yet despite the difficulty, Wesselhoft isn't ready to bury his idea.
The Moore Republican said he would request an opinion from Attorney General Drew Edmondson about the constitutionality of the current law which prohibits municipal government from regulating the animals, and added he would encourage -- and support -- a constitutional amendment to outlaw the breed.
"Right now I'm considering an initiative petition," he said. "I'd like to see it take off, and I'd like to see a non-profit organization lead the way. But if no one else will do it, I will."
Wesselhoft also asked municipal leaders "to go ahead and pass ordinances" to control pit bull ownership.
"This way, cities can bring a lawsuit against the state," he said. "I think state law is unconstitutional regarding dangerous dogs. Cities should decide what dogs they let reside in their area. I want to see this go to the state Supreme Court -- a city needs to challenge the state. It is unconstitutional for the state to be able to restrict the cities from protecting its residents. I will not give up this fight. Something needs to be done so there are no more Cody Yelton stories."
M. Scott Carter 366-3545 email@example.com
Transcript Staff Writer
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