Marine Corps puts certain dog breeds on a short leash when living on base

Beaufort Marines have until the end of the month to get the Corps' permission to keep their Rottweilers and pit bulls on base -- and then only for another year.

Without the waiver, they have to give up their dogs or move off base, according to a Marine Corps order last month.

The Corps will ban all such dogs from base housing, said Capt. Brian Block, spokesman at Headquarters Marine Corps in Virginia.

Base residents who own pit bulls, Rottweilers, wolf hybrids and mixes of those breeds have until Oct. 11 to obtain a waiver to keep their dogs on base. The dogs must pass "nationally recognized temperament tests," according to the Aug. 11 order by Maj. Gen. Edward Usher, deputy commandant of installations and logistics. The order affects the owners of at least 130 dogs on Beaufort bases, according to the Beaufort County Animal Shelter.

The waivers expire Sept. 30, 2012. After that, "owners may choose to retain their housing on base but will have to find alternate arrangements for their dog off base," Block said.

Block said the Corps polled all of its installations about dog attacks and other data late last year, and that survey was used to determine the breeds chosen for the ban. Details of that survey were not available. Restricted breeds without waivers will be allowed on base only when traveling to and from base veterinary clinics, according to the order.

Jennifer King and her husband, Staff Sgt. Jeremy King, a drill instructor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, said they figured they would have trouble renting off base when they got their Rottweiler, Sampson, more than two years ago.

"We've always known that with a Rottweiler it might be hard to rent because the breed's not allowed some places so we just figured we'd live on base wherever we went, so we weren't very happy," Jennifer King said of the new order. "We understand that things happen but our dog is trained and he's honestly the best dog. He's like our child, we couldn't just give him up. It feels a little unfair."

She took Sampson to Bluffton dog trainer Abby Byrd to put the dog through the temperament test last week, which the dog passed.

Dixie Lanier, spokeswoman for Atlantic Marine Corps Communities, which runs housing developments at Beaufort's two Marine Corps bases, said the company has not received any complaints about the order.

"AMCC plans to comply with the Marine Corps Order regarding domestic animal control," Lanier said. "Atlantic Marine Corps Communities understands that not all pets are aggressive, and AMCC remains a pet-friendly community."

Toni Lytton, county animal shelter director, expects to wind up with some of those dogs.

"The bases say there are 130 of these animals registered with the base vets, and if I had to take in all 130 of those animals at once, I don't know what I'd do," Lytton said. "We just don't have the room. It may have already started. We had a Rottweiler abandoned at the gate that came from one of the bases."

The shelter currently houses 57 dogs and 44 cats, which Lytton said is near the facility's capacity.

Byrd, owner of Alpha Dog Training Academy in Bluffton, has received calls from several local Marines about getting their dogs certified under the American Kennel Club's Good Canine Citizen program, one of the tests accepted by the Corps.

"About a week ago, I started getting calls from a number of panicked dog owners who informed me of the order and wanted to have their dog tested as soon as possible," said Byrd, who has administered the test to at least six dogs. "This is a pretty onerous requirement when you look at the time limitation and the fact that unless a dog has undergone obedience training in the past, they may not pass the (test)."

Byrd said the test might not be an accurate indicator of a dog's temperament.

"There's a difference between temperament and behavior," Byrd said. "Temperament is how a dog reacts to food, bones, children and other dogs. Behavior is how the dog is controlled by the owner."

Dogs that pass the test allow a friendly stranger to approach and speak to the handler without showing resentment or shyness, walk through a crowd of at least three people, and come to its handler when called from at least 10 feet away, according to the American Kennel Club.

Kelley Blackston, owner of Beaufort Dog, said her business will offer four, one-hour obedience classes for dogs before they go through the temperament test.

"In order to pass the test, the dog has to react well to loud noises and walk through a crowd of people and a crowd of dogs, and if you have an aggressive dog, as a trainer, you're going to know," Blackston said.