Pit bull ordinance upheld as constitutional in Little Rock, AR

A Pulaski County, Arkansas Circuit Court judge upheld the constitutionality of Little Rock’s pit-bull ordinance after a hearing on Friday.  Little Rock is the only large city in Pulaski County that still allows pit bulls.

The hearing stemmed from a dog-on-dog attack in December.  Little Rock’s animal services agency deemed the pit bull, Nova, as “vicious” under the city’s 2008 pit-bull ordinance,which meant it could be killed immediately. However, Nova’s owner, Joe Holland, filed suit in January challenging the constitutionality of the ordinance, Little Rock Code 6-19.

Ruling from the bench, the judge said his job was not to decide on the quality or effectiveness of the ordinance, but whether it crossed a “bright line ” into being unconstitutional.  The Circuit Court ruling allows the city to execute Nova immediately, but Mr. Holland intends to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. 

In defending the ordinance, the city attorney argued the law is legal because it meets the court-established “rational basis” standard because the law is designed to protect public safety.  He offered as further support for his case, that the Arkansas Supreme Court has recognized cities’ authority to enact such safety ordinances, including for pit bulls. The high court in 1991 affirmed Maumelle’s ban of the breed, with the justices refusing to find fault with laws that distinguish between breeds.

Under Little Rock’s ordinance, pit bulls are defined as “American pit terriers,  Staffordshire terriers, American Staffordshire terriers or any mixed breed with the “primary characteristics” of a pit bull.”

Under the city’s vicious-animal ordinance, a pit bull deemed to be dangerous will be executed within three days of such a finding, whereas another breed of dog can be moved out of the city limits to avoid being put to death. A dog can be declared dangerous if it kills another domesticated animal without provocation.

A great deal of testimony during Friday’s hearing came from local veterinarian Cliff Peck.  Dr. Peck testified that pit bulls are no more inherently vicious than any other dog, and laws like Little Rock’s that target pit bulls are ineffective and expensive with little or no basis in science.  He added that  breed specific laws are created out of media “sensationalism,” and Little Rock’s ordinance has caused responsible dog owners to move from the city. 

In support of Dr. Peck’s testimony, Mr. Holland’s attorney offered research from the American Veterinarian Medical Association, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, humane societies and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Overlooking the facts presented based on the research of national groups and experts, the judge found Little Rock’s ordinance to be constitutional.

We can only hope that the Arkansas Supreme Court will find the circuit court erred in its ruling, and common sense will prevail.  We will continue to monitor the issue. 

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