By Mason W. Canales
Killeen Daily Herald
COPPERAS COVE - An online petition to change a city policy preventing "bully breeds" from being adopted at the city's animal shelter has garnered more than 500 signatures since it began in November.
"To me this is (discrimination) at its finest," said Katja Killingsworth, who started the petition drive. "We are judging many by the actions of a few."
The policy states that pit bulls, chow chows and Rottweilers are not allowed to be adopted, in addition to any animal that has "vicious propensities."
The policy was enacted in 2001 when the Copperas Cove Animal Control transferred to the police department from the public works department, said Mike Heintzelman, deputy police chief. At that time, the city was experiencing several attacks on people and other animals from the breeds mentioned.
Heintzelman said the policy remains active as a means for the city to attempt to prevent injuries from dogs as well as protect the city against any liability if such an attack occurred, he said.
Killingsworth said the policy doesn't allow for the adoption of puppies of those breeds as well as any dogs that even resemble them.
"I don't expect (animal control officers) to look at a breed and tell me what it is," said George Fox, president of the Assisi Animal Refuge in Killeen. Fox noted the only way to tell if a dog is a pit bull is through genetic testing.
There are several breeds that share similar traits with pit bulls, chow chows and Rottweilers when they are young, such as the American bulldog, some dachshunds and others, said Michaela Ramos, who serves on the city's animal advisory committee and the board of directors for the Second Chance Animal Shelter in Killeen and Forgotten Friends in Austin.
Problems with aggressive dogs stem from their owners and not the breed, said Killingsworth, who manages her own private pit bull rescue.
"I would say that, obviously, a pit bull that is a danger would probably do a lot more damage than a Chihuahua that is dangerous," said Fox. "But it comes back to the owners."
Fox said he has pet-sat dogs since 1995 and some of the pit bulls have been the easiest to work with because of how they were raised.
For Killingsworth, it is about knowing what you can handle. She has saved more than 40 pit bulls, mostly mixes, in the last year.
Adopting owners a concern
The adopting owners are another concern for the city, said Heintzelman. Unlike rescue groups, the city doesn't turn away people who want to adopt animals. While animal control can make recommendations to would-be owners, it doesn't know if someone can handle that animal.
"We have had people in the past that have tried to make (pit bulls) mean, where they are kind of like a weapon," said Heintzelman. "We had reports that people were even feeding their pit bulls gunpowder to make them mean."
Killingsworth admitted pit bulls as well as most larger breeds probably should have stronger regulations for adoption, but a no-adoption policy was not the answer.
Heintzelman said the city recently started working with rescue organizations and it typically doesn't transfer pit bulls to those groups.
Breed-specific rescues are more equipped for adopting out larger, generally aggressive animals because they are better suited for recognizing the temperament of the animal and how to train the animal, said Heintzelman.
It is Ramos' goal to bring the issue before the animal advisory committee to see if the policy will be changed.
According to the petition, 3,000 signatures are being sought to show support for changing the policy.
Contact Mason W. Canales at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7474. Follow him on Twitter at KDHCoveEditor.