El Dorado City Commission discussed the pit bull ban in the city on Wednesday evening during a special meeting
It’s being a responsible pet owner, not the breed of dog. That was the message heard by the El Dorado City Commission Wednesday evening during a special meeting at which they discussed the pit bull ban in the city.
To start the conversation Public Works Director Brad Meyer gave some history on the city’s ordinance which bans pit bulls.
The conversation first began in 1987, then in 1988 a ban was put in place on four breeds of dog, including bull terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, American pit bull terrier and American Staffordshire.
“A lot of cities’ prohibitions against this breed of dog were, in my opinion, knee jerk reactions,” Meyer said. “They were because something bad happened in the community. Fortunately for us that was not what pushed this forward. It was pushed forward because others were doing it as well and it was done in a proactive approach.”
When the ordinance was written in 1988 certain animals already within the community were grandfathered in, with specific requirements. Staff kept up with all of those animals until they were no longer in the city limits.
“Each year we deal with a certain number of pit bulls,” Meyer said. “One of the things I can’t stress enough for staff that is here and who works on these on a daily basis is you can’t blame the dog, you’ve got to blame the owner. Being a responsible pet owner is more than half of the battle for this.”
Preventing bites for any breed of animal, Meyer said, has a lot to do with socializing the animal. He also said people need to make sure dogs have a license, are spayed or neutered, and are used for what they are intended, a pet.
“For every dog that could sit right here beside you and you could pet it, there is one that wants to chew your face off,” Meyer continued. “Our staff deals with both sides of that point. These breeds of animals have gotten a stigma for a long time – they’re scary, and for some of them, that’s true.
“The media works this where they instill fear in people,” he continued. “You may have a German Shepherd that bites someone and does damage and you don’t hear about it. One of these breeds bites someone and that is the headline.”
He stressed though the dog is not responsible for itself, rather the owners are responsible.
“While it is easy to say just hold the owner accountable, that is very true right up to when something happens,” he said.
Commissioner Chase Locke said he had talked to two vets and one was skeptical, while the other thought the ban was ridiculous.
Meyer said in addition to the ban, the city does have a dangerous animal ordinance, which says after an animal has been declared dangerous, the owner has to follow certain rules.
Looking around the state, Meyer found 46 cities, of those who reported, that still have ordinances.
Commissioner David Chapin then asked about how the breed of dog is determined.
Meyer said while their staff has a lot of experience with all of the prohibited breeds of dogs, when they have to be positively identified they use a local veterinarian.
Commissioner Nick Badwey also added some comments to the discussion on behalf of Dr. Parson, a local veterinarian who was out of town.
Badwey said Parsons was against breed bans because it puts more focus on the dog and less on owner responsibility. He also said all dogs may be vicious and wanted to see the vicious dog ban retained. He also said no individual is able to accurately identify a breed based solely upon appearance.
The commission then welcomed input from those attending the meeting.
Midge Grinstead, state director for the Kansas Humane Society, talked to the commission about some of her experiences.
She said she was there to talk about breed specific bans.
She pointed out if a certain breed is banned, those people who would have had that breed would get a different dog and that dog would be aggressive because it is the person causing the issues.
“Do you want the good people to be able to keep their dogs that are not causing problems?” she asked.
She said there were different steps the city could take. She also said there are a lot more towns that allow pit bulls than ban them.
She gave an estimate of 253 pit bulls in El Dorado currently based on some statistics.
Mayor Mike Fagg then asked if they were saying the city has a policy they are not following.
Meyer said it wasn’t that the city wasn’t following it, but that individuals were not following the policy. He also pointed out that 253 was someone’s estimate and he thought that was high.
“Are there pit bulls in town?” he said. “Absolutely. Do we know about them? No.”
Last year they had 38 instances where they came in contact with a pit bull going into or out of the shelter. He also said they had six bites last year from nine different breeds of dogs and two of those were pit bulls.
“What we anticipate happening, the same owners that are the excellent pet owners, those are the people that if you change the current ordinance, those are the owners that are going to have their animals sterilized, have their animals microchipped, they are going to follow the rules just like they do now, they just aren’t going to have to hide their dogs,” Meyer said. “The ones that don’t follow the rules still are not going to follow the rules because those are the pet owners that don’t care.”
Grinstead also pointed out pit bulls are easily abused because they are so loyal.
The commission also asked for input from Animal Control Officer Terry Trimmell.
“The only thing I can say is it is 99 percent the person who owns the dog how they want the dog to react,” he said.
He said the biggest thing with this is restriction on pit bulls have instill fear in people on what will happen if they are allowed.
He also said he had heard the judge say he hates being breed specific.
“He couldn’t see the need for it and I couldn’t really either,” Trimmell said. “You don’t have any more trouble with those dogs than you do any other.”
He thought they should rescind the ban, but said the problem they would have is the fear people have of them.
Police Chief Curt Zieman also talked from his perspective.
“From a public safety standpoint, I don’t like vicious dogs period and any dog can be vicious,” he said.
While they have had instances with pit bulls being vicious, they also have had those same problems with shepherds and any other type of dog. He thought they needed to have a vicious dog organize.
“When vets can’t even agree on what a dog is I think you have trouble enforcing a specific breed,” Zieman said.
Commissioner Bill Young also talked about some information he had read in an article saying historically pit bulls have been bred to behave differently in a fight and are less likely to back down, as well as become aggressive more quickly.
“Without properly training and socializing that may become a problem,” Young said. “I don’t disagree the owner plays a part in that. If all dog owners did the right thing to socialize their dogs at a young age, then we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.”
Meyer also talked about some of his experiences with pit bulls.
He recalled one instance on North Denver over the years where they removed nine pit bulls from a home.
“When you have nine, those are not used for pets,” he said.
Some other cities’ regulations limit the number of pit bulls a person can have. Wichita has it set at two unless the person pays a $50 fee to have a third.
Meyer also said when he was with the sheriff’s office, they pulled more than 100 pit bulls from a hedge row where they were chained up and being trained.
“It is happening around us,” he said. “We can tell when an animal comes into a shelter almost all the time who bred the dog and if it comes from the same blood line.
“It’s all about how the animal was raised. It’s all about its home life.”
Fagg then asked Grinstead to pick the best policy she has seen in a city and send it to Meyer to critique it. Fagg also said he liked the idea of a dangerous dog ordinance.
Young pointed out that was reactive legislation, not proactive.
City Manager Herb Llewellyn said they can have a vicious dog ordinance with requirements depending on the breed.
Meyer said they also could require knowing where those animals are in the community and there can be requirements for special licensing.
He said there was talk of a three strikes you’re out rule, but he thought three strikes were too many and it should be one.
“Any aggression in an urban atmosphere like we’ve got is a threat to public safety,” Meyer said.
Meyer said he will work to bring back something not too restrictive, but makes sure the public is safe.
“It’s a passionate argument on both sides,” Young said, “but if you weren’t passionate about your dogs, you shouldn’t have dogs.”
He wanted to review the information they had been given, then revisit it later with staff to see where they go from here.
Julie Clements can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.