The city of Topeka, Kansas is considering the repeal of its 10 year old ordinance regulating the ownership of pit bulls. The action, proposed by Councilwoman Karen Heller, is expected to be considered this summer to replace the city’s breed-specific ordinance regulating the ownership of pit bulls with rules that would instead regulate “dangerous dogs.”
Please write to the Topeka city officials listed below to encourage them to move forward with this proposal.
City Council e-mail contacts:
Ginny Burghart, Assistant to the City Council
215 SE 7th, Room 255
Topeka, KS 66603-3914
Norton N. Bonaparte, Jr., City Manager & CEO
215 SE 7th, Room 352
Topeka, KS 66603-3914
Brenda Younger, C.M.C. – City Clerk
215 SE 7th, Room 166
Topeka, KS 66603-3914
Bill Bunten, Mayor of Topeka
215 SE 7th, Room 352 – Map
Topeka, KS 66603-3914
Link to city council agendas and minutes:
City may scrap pit bull rules
Pit bull confinement regs contribute to overrun in animal control budget
By Tim Hrenchir
June 25, 2010 – 4:56pm
Pit bulls are known for their tenacity, strong jaws and ability to inflict serious injury — if not death.
But the executive director of Topeka’s Helping Hands Humane Society thinks pit bulls have been unfairly dogged by a reputation for viciousness.
“I have a pit bull, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this breed of dog,” HHHS executive director Stacy Hensiek said this past week.
Hensiek said the humane society shelter at 2625 N.W. Rochester Road euthanizes fewer pit bulls for aggressive behavior than it does any other breed of dog.
She said that is one reason the HHHS advocates a proposed action the Topeka City Council is expected to consider this summer to replace the city’s breed-specific ordinance regulating the ownership of pit bulls with rules that would instead regulate “dangerous dogs.”
Hensiek is part of a committee of citizens with an interest in animal-related issues who are advising the city administration as it considers asking the council to make various changes to city ordinances regarding animals.
Assistant city attorney Kyle Smith told the council this past week that the committee, which is working with Councilwoman Karen Hiller, is suggesting moves that include doing away with the city’s breed-specific
rules regulating ownership of pit bulls.
Those rules require owners to obtain licenses and implant microchips in dogs that have the appearance and characteristics of being predominantly of any three types of pit bull: the Staffordshire bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier and American pit bull terrier.
The city bans the ownership, keeping or harboring of pit bulls that aren’t licensed and don’t contain a microchip. Fines for violators range from $200 to $499, with the offense also being punishable by a jail sentence of up to 179 days. Owners of pit bulls found to be in violation are required to remove them from the city.
The city requires itself to confine suspected pit bulls until any charges against their owners are resolved in Topeka Municipal Court, which has proven expensive, Smith said. He said the city spends $10 per day to keep any suspected pit bull involved in a pending case at the Humane Society shelter.
Smith said the Topeka police animal control unit has been over budget an average of about $27,000 a year for the past decade, with the vast majority of those overruns being caused by the unit’s needing to pay to confine dogs suspected of being pit bulls.
“These are not dogs that exhibited vicious behavior,” he said. “They’re just running loose or otherwise in violation of our breed-specific ordinances.”
Owners who contest pit bull charges in Municipal Court often contend their dog isn’t predominantly a pit bull, Smith said. He said prosecutors may find it difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a dog is a pit bull.
Hensiek said 20 to 40 dogs being held in connection with pit bull court cases are confined at any given time at the Humane Society. She said HHHS must often euthanize stray dogs of other breeds because there isn’t available space for them, as so much space is taken up by suspected pit bulls.
Stray pit bulls picked up by city animal control officers aren’t made available for adoption by HHHS.
Hensiek said that if a pit bull’s owner doesn’t claim it in the three days following the day it is brought in, HHHS assesses whether the pit bull is adoptable. If it isn’t, it is euthanized. If it is, HHHS turns it over to a pit bull rescue organization, provided that group has room for it. If the group doesn’t, the pit bull is euthanized.
Smith this past week questioned the practice of singling out pit bulls for breed-specific enforcement, saying the 11 fatal dog attacks in Kansas since 1965 have been carried out by eight different breeds. He said dogs of any breed can become vicious, while pit bulls can be “excellent and safe pets.”
Megan McAdoo, who handles admissions at Helping Hands, said her pit bull dog, Boss, is a friendly and gentle “couch potato.”
“He adores my children, and he’s just an awesome dog all around,” said McAdoo, who adopted Boss from the HHHS shelter.
Hensiek said for 10 years she has had a pit bull, Noah, which she adopted after it lost an illegally staged dog fight and was left to die.
Hensiek and Smith said breed-specific legislation targeting a particular breed, such as pit bulls, has generally been discredited as ineffective.
“Studies show that cities with breed-specific laws are not any safer,” Smith said. “Stronger laws against aggressive and dangerous dogs which hold the owners responsible are seen as more effective.”
The city currently requires an identification microchip to be implanted in any animal that has caused its owner to be convicted of violating the city’s “vicious animals” ordinance.
That ordinance defines “vicious” as having a “cross, ferocious or dangerous disposition or a habit, tendency or disposition to snap, attack or bite any person or other animal.” Any animal that is responsible for a second conviction under the ordinance must be destroyed.
Smith asks that the council change current rules to replace the term “vicious dog” with “dangerous dog” and create the lower-level offense of possessing a dangerous dog. He said dogs would be judged as “dangerous” when they have shown inappropriate aggressive behavior.
Tim Hrenchir can be reached at (785) 295-1184 or firstname.lastname@example.org.