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Proposed ban raises hackles of some dog owners

By Matthew Stolle

mstolle@postbulletin.com

Cathy DeFries had some very definite ideas when she went looking for her second rottweiler. She wanted it to be a bigger dog, and she wanted it to be, as she describes it, an affectionate, "kissy-face rott."

And that’s exactly what she got when she held JoJo, at 8 weeks old, in her arms for the first time.

"I picked her up and I held her for over an hour,’" DeFries said. "I love rotts. I think they are tremendous."

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So it comes as something of a shock to DeFries that a state legislator is proposing legislation that would ban dogs like JoJo. Rep. John Lesch, a St. Paul state representative, said he will push for a state ban on Akitas, chow chows, rottweilers, pit bulls and wolf hybrids, or mixed-breed dogs with any of those dogs’ traits.

Lesch said his proposed ban is a response to a string of vicious dog attacks, primarily from pit bulls, that have taken place in the Twin Cities over the past year. He said that too often the attacks on children and the elderly have come from dogs that previously hadn’t displayed violent tendencies.

He said the breeds he proposes to ban are dogs that major insurance carriers consider to be dangerous animals and, therefore won’t provide liability coverage for homeowners.

"I figure if it’s good enough for the market economy to make decisions on customers that way, it ought to be good enough to keep our citizens safe," Lesch said.

Local dog trainers say that Lesch’s approach oversimplifies the problem. They say that pigeonholing certain breeds of dogs as a threat to public safety feeds a false public perception, largely created by the media. Dogs should be evaluated on an individual basis, and entire breeds shouldn’t be branded, they say.

"I’ve known some really, really nice pit bulls, and some really nice rottweilers that have lived in day-care homes. They are really nice dogs, outstanding citizens," said Shalise Keating, owner of Paws Ability Dog Training in Rochester.

Now two-thirds grown, DeFries’ dog JoJo is no longer a puppy. Well into developing the physical characteristics that have made Rottweilers into legendary guard dogs, JoJo still displays the sweet, affectionate quality that first drew DeFries. It just comes in a bigger package. JoJo still licks people, sidles up to strangers to have her black coat stroked, and lolls on her side, panting, while children pet her.

"I know they are a good dog. They tend to really like children," said DeFries, who leaned down from her chair to rub JoJos’s head and impart encouraging words to her dog, adding, "And yes, because some people are idiots, you’ve gotten a bad rap. Isn’t that right?"

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