Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune is changing its pet policy and banning all aggressive dogs and specific dog breeds as of Sept. 30.
Although the Marine Corps banned aggressive dog breeds in 2009, owners who had lived on a Marine Corps base with a restricted dog prior to the ban were allowed to "grandfather in" their dogs and keep them on base but new residents were not allowed to bring the restricted breeds on base when they moved.
Animal Control has recently taken over pet registration aboard Camp Lejeune and MCAS New River, and as a result, they're enforcing a stricter ban on pit bulls, rottweilers and wolf hybrids.
As of Sept. 30, regardless of when the dog was acquired, all owners of pit bulls, rottweilers and wolf hybrids must either move out in town or give up their dog. All current pet owners must also re-register their pets under the new system by the same date.
"It also has to do with base housing," said Sgt. Brent Mitzel from the Provost Marshal's Office Animal Control. "There (have) been incidences in the past with bites and stuff like that, and we're all just trying to limit the potential hazards."
Alisa Johnson, a Marine and president of Dogs on Deployment, a nonprofit organization that helps military members find homes for their pets while deployed, said just because a dog is a specific breed, doesn't mean their personality is predictable.
"If you have a family pet that has never displayed any type of aggression, why is the pet and their family being punished?" Johnson asked, adding that a more suitable option would be to ban only those specific dogs that show instances of aggression, instead of all breeds that people suspect may be prone to aggression.
Mitzel said Animal Control will also test dogs for aggression during registration, and if the dog is considered aggressive by the staff, regardless of the breed, it will not be allowed on base.
"If they try to bite us, snap at us, growl, snarl -- show any type of aggression toward us, we'll make that determination on whether we believe that pet is aggressive," Mitzel said. "If it's a three-pound dog and it's trying to bite everybody's hand off, we will not register that dog on the base."
During registration, animal control will also assess the dog to determine if it is a banned breed or a mix of any of the banned breeds, and if they suspect the dog is one of those, they will not register the pet on base either, Mitzel said.
"We're going to tell the owner they can contest it with a DNA test if they'd like. Once we get the results back, if it's not one of those banned breeds and it's not aggressive, then we'll register it on base," he said, adding that if the results come back positive, the dogs will be forced to leave the base, with or without their owners.
Although DNA testing has long been used by military bases and veterinary clinics to determine the breed of a dog, Johnson told The Daily News that no scientific evidence exists to prove DNA testing for breeds is accurate.
"In a memorandum distributed Army-wide on Feb. 3, 2012, Col. Bob Walter, director of the Army's Veterinarian Service Activity, stated there is no scientific method to determine a breed and that breed bans are unlikely to protect installation residents," the petition from Johnson's nonprofit that calls for standardized pet policies across the military reads. "The letter recommends generic, non-breed, specific dangerous dog regulations with emphasis on identification of dangerous and chronically irresponsible owners."
Currently, the Army and Air Force ban pit bulls, rottweilers, Doberman pinschers, chows and wolf hybrids, while the Marine Corps bans only pit bulls, rottweilers and wolf hybrids. Navy policies vary by installation. Some private base housing offices have additional breed restrictions beyond the listing of the military branch, meaning a family that moves from one base to another could be forced to give up their dog depending on the pet policy on that particular base.
"There is a huge lack of consistency with these policies," Johnson said. "What we're asking for is the DoD to give our military some piece of mind. ... It's a huge morale problem when you have families that are being broken up over breed restrictions."
Johnson's petition on Change.org calls for a standardized, consistent military policy for all pet owners, regardless of the breed. The petition asks the military to focus on strong enforcement of general dangerous dog policies and pet education programs for troops.
"With so much uncertainty in military life because of constant moves ... pets are a stabilizing component for helping families in stressful times," the petition reads. "Some servicemembers are required to live in government housing and, as more troops operate in a joint environment, the policy should account for these realties."
Johnson added that their petition is not "an attack on military policies." Rather, it's a request for the military to "make a change that's going to help our military families, instead of hurt them."
To view or sign the petition, visit change.org/petitions/standardize-military-pet-policies.
For questions regarding the Camp Lejeune pet policy changes, call PMO Domestic Animal Control at 910-451-5143.