The city of Camdenton, Missouri, heard a request to review their long-standing pit bull ban yesterday at the board meeting, along with a request to dismiss a citation for violation of the ban. The request was made by Misty Brown, a woman who bought a house in town 2 weeks before she was told her dogs must be removed from the town. The two dogs in question, Karma and Chaos, are registered American Bulldogs.
According to Brown, before closing on her house, she checked with city hall and was told by an employee that her dogs were fine because they are not pit bulls. Despite doing her due diligence, despite American Bulldogs not being a targeted breed and despite the fact that the dogs did nothing wrong, Brown was cited under the ban after a neighbor complained about the dogs. Brown was ticketed and told that she had to get rid of the dogs by November 12th.
The ban, which was passed in 1989, defines a “pit bull” several ways.
“A pit bull may be identified as any dog which exhibits those distinguishing characteristics that substantially conform to the standards established by the American Kennel Club or United Kennel Club as described in the identification checklist which is on file in the City offices.” (amendment enacted 2011)
“1. Staffordshire bull terrier breed of dog;2. The American pit bull terrier breed of dog;3. The American Staffordshire terrier breed of dog;4. Any mixed breed of dog which contains as an element of its breeding the breed of Staffordshire bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, or American pit bull terrier as to be identifiable as partially of the breed Staffordshire bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, or American pit bull terrier;5. Any dog which has the appearance and characteristics of being predominantly of the breeds of Staffordshire bull terrier, American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier; and other breeds commonly known as pit bulls, pit bull dogs, or pit bull terriers, or a combination of any of these breeds.” (original law enacted 1989)
The law has 2 separate and very different standards. The language an element of its breeding and substantially conform are used and both are different in what they mean legally. An element means any percentage of the specified breeds. Substantially implies over 50%.
When Brown approached the board, she asked that she be allowed to keep her dogs because they are not pit bulls and their lineage as American Bulldogs is documented and provable. The board decided that because the registered American Bulldogs were determined to fit some of the physical description of a pit bull, that they are banned. The board seems to think that they can define a dog’s breed however they wish, based on 8 criteria that are extremely open to interpretation. Actually, not even 8, because a dog only has to meet 5 of the 8 criteria in order to be banned.
Aside from the fact that dogs are being targeted that are in no way a pit bull, there are numerous problems with the law. We sent a copy of the wording to Attorney Fred Kray, founder and CEO of Pit Bulletin Legal News for an evaluation. His response is as follows:
Fred Kray: “The problem with this ordinance is that it puts the burden of proof on the dog owner. So, after identification, there is a rebuttal presumption-which is essentially saying that the dog owner has the burden of proving the dog is not a pit bull. This is tantamount to getting a speeding ticket and saying that once the officer clocks you, you have the burden to prove you weren’t speeding. No, that is not what happens. The government must come forward and initially prove their case that the dog is a pit bull and if they don’t show up-and go forward, the owner should walk. There is also a question of the burden of proof. What is the standard? Ample proof is not a standard; it is unknowable. According to Mansour v. King, the dog owner must be told the burden of proof and the government must have the burden of going forward.”
Brown and her attorney asked the board to review the ban and the board was told by the city attorney that there is no reason to do so. It is clear the city attorney does not know much about due process, and is perhaps not the best to be advising in this situation, as the law is clearly flawed.
Brown’s attorney stated that the ticket opens the town to legal challenge for a vague law, and it appears that they will be heading to court over the issue.
This case highlights the exact opposite of what the pro-BSL lobby claims. They claim that only actual “pit bulls” are targeted under bans, and that other dogs are not because “everyone” can identify a pit bull. If papers don’t dis-prove a dog is banned, then there is no short-haired dog in the community that is safe. They also claim that dogs aren’t taken from their homes, that bans simply keep new dogs from the community. Clearly, this is not the case.
We will continue to follow this story as it develops.
Below is the check list used to identify dogs as falling under the ordinance. This gives a chance to see exactly how broadly these descriptions can be interpreted.
– Head is medium length, with a broad skull and very pronounced cheek muscles, a wide, deep muzzle, a well defined, moderately deep stop and strong under jaw. Viewed from the top, the head is shaped like a broad, blunt wedge.
– Eyes are round to almond shaped, are low in the skull and set far apart.
– Ears are set high. Un-cropped ears are short and usually held rose or half prick, through some hold them at full prick.
– Neck is heavy and muscular, attached to strong, muscular shoulders.
-Body is muscular, with a deep, broad chest, a wide front, deep brisket, well sprung ribs and slightly tucked loins.
-Tail is medium length and set low, think at base, tapering to a point.
-Hindquarters are well muscled, with hocks set low on the legs.
-Coat is a single coat, smooth, short and close to the skin.