Hallsville, MO, repeals breed ban

Hallsville, Missouri had a ban on “pit bulls” for over 20 years.  Passed in 1989, the ban was instituted after there were some “aggressive” pit bulls in the community, according to Mayor Cheri Reish.

On November 10th, the board of aldermen voted unanimously to repeal the long-standing ban.  The issue came up after a family was targeted as having a banned dog.  The dog was newly adopted and the family wanted to be able to keep their dog.  They approached the council with the request that the ban be re-examined.  According to the Mayor of Hallsville, the Board decided that the ordinance was “an unfair law.”

It took only roughly month between the time the initial request was made to the time the board repealed the law.

The Mayor also spoke of people who wanted to move into the community, but were unable to because of the ban. In a report on the repeal the mayor said, “We had a couple of people wanting to move in our city who already own pit-bull dogs.  Once they found out we didn’t allow them, they decided not to move into our city.”

City officials see the repeal as a positive one for the community.  They cited the ability of local shelters to be able to find homes for dogs in need as well as creating equitable laws for everyone and an equal standard of behavior.

Hallsville does have a generic dangerous dog law, that addresses all dogs.  Interestingly, a group has been working on getting an ordinance that would prohibit tethering a dog for 24 hours a day, but it keeps failing to move forward.

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Aurora, Colorado: The good, the bad and the silver lining

November 4th, a ballot measure in Aurora, Colorado that would have repealed the ban on dogs who are over 50% “pit bull” failed to pass.

On the surface, this seems to be a disheartening loss.  A lot of hard work was put into educating the public about the ban on a shoe string budget, and hopes were high that this would be the first repeal to happen by popular vote.  Ballot measures of any kind are complex creatures, with many factors contributing to the outcome.  It was an uphill battle from the start, but, when the bottom line is examined, we come away with a message not of failure, but of hope and success.

The first issue advocates for breed neutral laws had to contend with was the time frame.  The ballot was brought up for discussion by the city council 2 months before they officially created the measure.  City council must vote to put an issue on the ballot and the language of the ballot.  This means that groups in the area had a scant 90 days to develop and deliver their message.

Repeal had been a long running discussion in the community.  The issue had seen some significant media coverage even before the ballot came up.  The media and council were told by Aurora Animal Control that the ban was working and that bites in the community had been reduced, though they neglected to provide any data.   The actual data, obtained via a request to the city attorney, tells a very different story.

Chart used with permission from ColoRADogs

Chart used with permission from ColoRADogs

A detailed analysis of the data from Brent Toellner, KC Dog Blog, shows the same story that is clearly illustrated in the above chart.  Bites have increased in Aurora, overall, by 77% since the bans inception (details provided in the link).  This pivotal fact was neglected by every single media outlet that reported on the issue.  It is very clear that animal control was presenting “facts” to support the ban, instead of those that would inform the public.

Not only was Aurora Animal Control playing the part of spin doctor to cover the bans failure at protecting residents, they have also failed at breed identification.

Image used with permission from ColoRADogs

Image used with permission from ColoRADogs

Aurora is one of the few places where DNA testing is codified in the law. Because of this, we can see exactly how good animal control is at the job of identifying “pit bulls.” 76% of the time, dogs being targeted under the ban are not covered under the wording of the law.  76% of the time, resources in the form of man hours and money are wasted on dogs that are unlucky enough to look the part.  This information was also readily available via the city attorney’s office, but, yet again, both animal control and the media neglected to mention, even once, how abysmal the breed identification track record is.

In the 90 days before the ballot due date, local groups conducted a grassroots campaign to inform the public about the ballot and the ban.  Director of ColoRADogs, Nancy Tranzow, stated that many people believed the ban only affected dogs who were actually vicious, and were unaware that dogs that had done nothing wrong were being confiscated and killed.  When it was explained how these laws impact innocent families, many people changed their opinion of the ban.  The issue of property rights did not seem to affect opinions, stated Tranzow.  This stands out because according to a focus group conducted by Luntz Global, at the behest of Best Friends Animal Society, the issue of property rights featured strongly as one of the most effective arguments.

So what happened with the ballot itself?  Aurora operates mostly on mail in ballots and voters are responsible for postage.

The language of the ballot was deceptively simple.  “Shall the people of Aurora adopt an ordinance allowing pit bulls back into their city?”  This would appear to be a good thing, particularly after the issue of the Miami ballot measure language, which was so confusing many people claimed they voted the wrong way.  Experts on the legislative process and ballot initiatives say otherwise.  Many point out that overly simple language on a complex issue leads people to make uninformed decisions.  So instead of opting out of voting on something they are not familiar with, a person will vote based on “feeling, not fact” as Councilwoman Molly Markert so aptly put it.

“It’s not about a fact, it’s about a feeling.”  Should public safety be about a feeling?  This question should not even have to be answered.  The answer should be so self-evident that the question would never have to be asked.  Unfortunately, Aurora finds itself at the mercy of feelings and not facts.  The beautiful thing about facts, however, is that they always win out in the end.

So lets look at the facts:

-Aurora’s ban had not reduced attacks.

-Those tasked with the implementation of the ban cannot identify what they are trying to keep out of their community and yet they continue to insist this thing they can’t identify is much more dangerous than other dogs just by being.

-Informal polling in mid-September showed only 24% of people were for the repeal and (according to the count at the time of this posting) 35.2% actually voted to repeal.  This percentage increase in the span of roughly 45 days is remarkable.  Though some pro-BSL blogs are saying that the vote was 22,719 to repeal the ban and 92,898 to keep the ban, this is untrue.  The official count for the measure at the time of this post is 34,284 votes for repeal vs 62,953 against.  These numbers have changed several times, with the number of votes for repeal, creeping up steadily.

Polling roughly 45 days before the vote showed 24% for repeal.  That turned into 35.2% of voters for repeal.  This is something that should be highlighted.  There were 90 days to reach a community of almost 350,000 people, a part of which had no idea that there is a ban in place.  In 45 days, advocates increased support for the repeal and not only increased support, but increased the number of people who were willing to vote to change it in a quantifiable way.  Fact, not feeling.

The repeal failed.  This is a fact.  It is also a fact that education works to change minds.  It is a fact that the people working for the repeal were effective in their methods.  They worked professionally and ethically in the face of bullying, cyber stalking and harassment by the out of state pro-BSL lobby.  They worked diligently in the face of childish name calling, liable and blatant bigotry against them as individuals by so-called victims advocates.  They stood up and spoke up for the betterment of the community and they most certainly are not stopping just because feeling won this round.

Fact will win out.

Enumclaw, WA, keeps breed ban in place

At last nights meeting in Enumclaw, Washington, officials voted to keep the current breed ban in place.

The meeting drew a great number of commenters, some from both sides of the issue, but as we have seen before, the commenters for repealing the ban, out weighed those for keeping.  There was a small contingent to keep the ban, led by a woman whose child had been attacked by a dog she identified as a “pit bull.”  Public comment lasted for over an hour.

The vote to keep the law in place was unanimous.  This is interesting considering the vote to repeal was nearly unanimous as well, with only one dissenting vote.  The official recommendation per city documentation, was to repeal the existing ban.

There is some speculation that officials did not want to act to repeal with the emotional pressure present.

Though the repeal failed to pass the second reading, officials have said that this is not the end of the discussion.  Replacing the ban with restrictions is one idea that is being looked at as well as increasing penalties for those who have dogs that attack.

The ordinance that was for discussion, not only repealed the existing ban.  It also would have strengthened the rest of the dangerous dog laws, to better protect the community from negligent owners who fail to exercise proper care and control over their dogs.  A companion to the repeal would have adopted the county animal control law, which has been updated far more recently then the cities law.

King County provides animal control for the city, and having laws that are the same is extremely important for the proper enforcement of those laws.  Disparity breeds confusion for both residents and those working in official capacity, for the county.

It is unfortunate that officials failed to provide equal recourse for all victims of dog attacks and has failed to act in a manner that would have made for more effective enforcement of Animal Control within the city.

Enumclaw, Washington, considers repeal of breed ban

A change to the Enumclaw, WA, ordinance that bans “pit bulls” is working its way through the city council.

The first vote of the repeal was passed on September 22nd, with only one dissenting vote.  The second and final reading of the repeal is set to be heard on October 13th.

The current ordinance defines “pit bull” as “any dog over the age of six months known by the owner to be a Pit Bull Terrier. Pit Bull Terrier shall mean any Bull Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, or Staffordshire Bull Terrier or American Staffordshire Terrier breed of dog or any mixed breed of dog which contains as an element of its breeding the breed of Bull Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier or American Staffordshire Terrier so as to be identifiable as partially of the breed Bull Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier or American Staffordshire Terrier.

Again, we see the use of the “as an element of its breeding” in the ordinance, which has been successfully challenged in court several times.  Because the implication is that even a dog with 1% of the listed breeds is banned, there is a question as to whether, rationally, a dog with 1% of anything could contain the supposed “inherent” behaviors of that breed.

City administrator Chris Searcy stated that the city repeatedly receives requests from residents to repeal the law, showing support for the repeal, specific to residents.

Residents and locals are encouraged to attend the meeting, to show support for the repeal.  If you cannot attend this meeting, you can contact the city council to politely and factually support the repeal of the current breed ban, by finding your council members information on the cities website.

Missouri Valley Iowa to consider repeal of breed ban

Missouri Valley, Iowa, currently has a breed ban in place.  Officials are looking into the possibility of repealing their ban and enacting restrictions instead.

Last month, a resident had his dog confiscated under the ordinance.  The dog in question was moved to an out-of-state location and is currently living with family members.  In response, the resident, Bryan Athay, and his girlfriend, Katie Flora, obtained 63 signatures from registered voters in Missouri Valley asking that the ordinance be revisited.

This is a point of interest for several different reasons.  Often we see online petitions, but the criticism of those is always the same from councils.  Officials point out, rightly so, that signatures on online petitions come from out-of-town, out-of-state and also, in many cases, out of country.  City councils are most apt to listen to the voters in their community.  Even petitions that are taken of residents generally do not have the forethought to limit those to registered voters.  This shows incredible thought and tact on the part of Mr. Athay.

A second point of interest is that Missouri Valley, Iowa, has a population of roughly 2,750 people.  This is an extremely small community.  According to census data there are approximately 1,500 registered voters.  This means that the signatures gathered in less then one month represent slightly over 4% of registered voters in the community.  While this may not seem impressive at face value, given the length of time in which the signatures were gathered, and the fact that they limited it to not only residents, but registered voters in the community, the 4% becomes a much more impressive feat.

The current ordinance targets a variety of dogs under their “pit bull” ban.

E. Pit Bull Terriers, including the following:
(1) The Bull Terrier breed of dog;
(2) The Staffordshire Bull Terrier breed;
(3) The American Staffordshire Terrier breed;
(4) The American Pit Bull Terrier breed;
(5) Dogs of mixed breed or other breeds which are known as pit
bulls, pit bulldogs or pit bull terriers;
(6) Any dog which has the appearance and characteristics of
being predominantly of the breeds of Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull
Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier,
any other breed commonly known as pit bulls, pit bull dogs or pit bull
terriers or a combination of any of these breeds.

This law is covered under the city code regarding Dangerous and Vicious animals, putting “pit bulls” in the same category as badgers, wolverines, weasels, skunk and mink, raccoons, bats and, oddly enough, scorpions.

The council will meet on July 1st, where the issue will likely be open to discussion.

Jurupa Valley CA rejects breed based spay/neuter law

At their last meeting, officials in Jurupa Valley, California, decided against a proposal that would require the pediatric mandatory sterilization of dogs deemed to be pit bulls.

The proposal was brought forward by Councilman Micheal Goodland.  Goodland made it very clear that this was not about shelter numbers, or population issues.  He is quoted in local reports, calling “pit bulls” wild animals and has stated openly that he would like to see a breed ban in place.

This follows what we have seen in California communities, where one council member makes extremely strong claims about “vicious animals” or “wild animals” and “protecting the community,” while at the same time saying that it is a shelter issue.

There were 2 votes for the proposal, and 3 against.

Two of those who voted against the proposal stated it was an issue of rights for them.  Johnston and Roughton said they could vote to take away the right of dog owners to keep their animals intact.

The other vote for the proposal, aside from Goodman who sponsored it, cited dog attacks as the reason for voting for it, claiming the spay/neuter law would reduce attacks.

As more and more research into the issue of dog attacks and the dogs sexual status emerges, we are seeing stronger correlations to the way the dog is generally cared for, sexual status being an indicator of that.

The 2 part proposal contained the mandatory sterilization of “pit bulls” as well as a proposed marketing campaign urging responsible dog ownership, including voluntary sterilization, licensing and microchipping of pets.

These sorts of campaigns have proven to be incredibly successful, but only when the municipality provides information on how to access these resources.

We hope that the council revisits the campaign, as well as looking into providing resources to low income communities, which are the most impacted in these situations.

South Bend Indiana unanimously repeals breed discriminatory law

After much hard work, officials in South Bend, Indiana, have voted on the new animal control ordinance that includes the repeal of the long-standing breed discriminatory law.  They voted unanimously to pass the new law and repeal the outdated breed discriminatory law.

Passed in 1987, the law restricted American Pit Bull Terriers and those resembling this breed only.  The ordinance was very clear in the definition that American Pit Bull Terrier was defined as the UKC (United Kennel Club) and ADBA (American Dog Breeders Association) standard.

” American Pit Bull Terrier means the breed of dog registered and described by the United Kennel Club (U.K.C) and the American Dog Breeders Association (A.D.B.A.) as the American Pit Bull Terrier, also known as the pit bull terrier, and any crossbreed of the American Pit Bull Terrier; but does not include the breeds known as the American Staffordshire Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the English Bulldog, the Bull Terrier, or the Bulldog, all of which are recognized by the American Kennel Club (A.K.C.).”

This particular definition had proven to be completely unenforceable considering that it specifically excluded so many breeds and types that are typically lumped into the definition of “pit bull.”

The repeal is not surprising, considering the breadth of the ordinance that is taking its place.  A work group was formed over a year ago to study the issue and the current law, and to draft changes.  The group took their time, forming a new law based on best practices in the industry regarding the care and control of all animals.

Councilwoman Valerie Schey took the issue on head first, recognizing, based on municipal statistics, that the current animal control ordinance wasn’t working to do what was intended.  The changes to the ordinance began in early 2013.

Interestingly, the animal control changes coincided with the dismissal of the long time head of animal control back in April of 2013.  In a local story on the dismissal, Schey commented that “Even though we’ve made significant strides in the care we provide with the new building, I still don’t feel the (euthanasia) numbers are where they need to be.”

Though the media made it seem like the issue of repeal was a hotly contested one, there were no speakers in favor of keeping the old breed discriminatory law at the meeting.

To say the new animal control ordinance is a comprehensive one would be an understatement.  The ordinance covers breeding practices, standards for animal related businesses, animal based entertainment, husbandry issues for all kinds of animals, from horses to bees.  There are detailed definitions for dangerous, potentially dangerous and vicious animals.  There are additions to the law that outline the standard of care for animal owners.  Specific to dogs, there are tethering provisions, husbandry issues addressed and a more detailed dangerous dog law that includes due process for owners, which had been seriously lacking in the old law.

The ordinance is 60 pages and contains some fabulous provisions that will make South Bend a safer and more humane community, which was the goal of Schey when she undertook this project.

South Bend also highlights another issue we have seen recently where proponents of breed discriminatory laws have been interfering with the local legislative process.  We are aware of several well-known pro-BDL advocates, who live out-of-state, that wrote to the legislators misrepresenting themselves as residents.  This has become a recent trend that can be seen in other municipalities as well, Riverside and Pasadena, California, Aurora, Colorado and Missouri are just a few of the other places these tactics are being used.  These people, however are increasingly being seen for what they are, as residents come forward and dominate the conversation, overwhelmingly against breed discriminatory laws.  Councils are more aware than ever that this handful of people, and the groups they represent, are using these tactics in an attempt to sway the conversation, but have no presence in the actual community.

We would like to congratulate Councilwoman Schey for her hard work in crafting the new law, and setting South Bend on the path to becoming a model city for animal care and control.