Pit bull ordinance being drafted in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas

A concerned citizen is reaching out for help in opposing an ordinance proposed by the mayor of Walnut Ridge, Arkansas which targets “pit bulls.”  The city council has been discussing a vicious dog ordinance for several months, and at their November council meeting, Mayor Don House described “pit bulls” as a “very real safety issue to the public.”

Despite a debate on how the city would handle breed identification and mixed-breed dogs, Alderman Dixon made a motion to have the city attorney draft an ordinance that would ban pit bulls.  Once the council receives the draft ordinance, they will hold three public meetings before taking a vote.

It is not known when this issue will be before the council next, but a city official recently advised it would likely be taken up after the first of the year.

Accordingly, please send your polite, respectful and informative letters in opposition to breed discriminatory legislation to the Walnut Ridge city officials listed below, and encourage them to focus on problem dog owners rather than specific breeds of dogs.  It is also recommend that you forward for their consideration the NAIA publication “A Guide to Constructing Successful, Pet Friendly ordinances.”  The guide has some excellent points that would help the city officials make a more informed and educated decision that does not involve regulating certain breeds of dogs.

You may also want to share a copy of the American Bar Association House of Delegates Resolution 100, passed on August 6, 2012, which calls for laws regarding dangerous dogs to be “breed neutral.”  The resolution states:

The American Bar Association urges all state, territorial, and local legislative bodies and government agencies to adopt breed-neutral dangerous dog/reckless owner laws that ensure due process protections for owners, encourage responsible pet ownership, and focus on the behavior of both dog owners and dogs, and to repeal any breed discriminatory or breed specific legislation.

Considering the aldermen have already broached the subject of problematic breed identification, please point out the difficulties of identifying so-called “pit bulls,” including the fact that “pit bull” is not a breed of dog but, rather, it is a catch-all term for a broad grouping of dogs, and the number of specific breeds that fall into that grouping varies widely depending on the individual making the determination.  Most animal control and/or law enforcement officers are not able to identify specific breeds of dogs with any degree of accuracy because the commonly stated physical characteristics in many breeds are extremely similar.

In addition, emphasize that breed bans carry with them too much potential for arbitrary or improper enforcement.  Because breed identification by animal control officers is subjective (or arbitrary), it opens the city to liability and litigation issues at tax payer expense in the event of mistaken identification.  Despite any assertions to the contrary, the burden of breed identification falls on the city — NOT dog owners — and will require DNA testing at the city’s expense.

Perhaps one of the most compelling arguments with respect to why breed specific legislation fails is that it neglects to address the issue of irresponsible dog ownership – the true cause of problem dogs in any community.  Breed specific laws place the blame squarely on the dogs themselves and removes the responsibility from the dog owner.  In effect, breed specific laws let reckless and negligent dog owners off the hook.  Moreover, because regulating breeds of dogs does not address the very real issue of irresponsible owners, many areas that have enacted breed regulations have actually experienced an increase in dog bite/attack incidents of dog breeds NOT covered by the breed specific law – the exact opposite desired result of any animal control ordinance.  Only when you see more owners understand their responsibilities and become committed to providing the proper training, care, socialization and supervision for their dogs, will dog bite incidents be reduced.

Last, but certainly not least, breed specific laws infringe on dog owners’ property rights.  Despite the negative connotation some may associate with labeling dogs as “property,” the bottom line is, in the eyes of the law, that’s exactly what they are.  That being said, it is universally understood that the legal description attached to dogs has absolutely no bearing on the affection and appreciation dog owners have for their dogs, nor does it have any impact on or change the fact that dogs are meaningful and beloved members of their families. Moreover, designating dogs as “property” is extremely important to the fight against breed specific laws because “property owners” must be afforded due process.  In short, a government’s authority is limited by the Constitution, which is where dogs’ legal classification as “property” comes into play.  According to the Constitution, the government cannot deprive you of your property without giving you due process – that is, notice and a chance to have a hearing. By automatically declaring dogs dangerous because of their perceived breed or appearance, dog owners are deprived of due process.

Everyone agrees that ensuring community safety is of the utmost importance. Also important, however, are dog owners’ rights not to have their dog declared “dangerous” without notice, a hearing, or an appeal process.

Dog ownership is a responsibility, and individual dog owners — not entire communities — need to be held accountable when they fail to live up to those responsibilities and the duty owned to their dogs, as well as their communities. Community safety is achieved by strictly enforcing animal control laws that are already in place, not passing laws that reckless and negligent dog owners have already proven to hold with little to no regard.

The Walnut Ridge city council meets on the second Tuesday of each month. Agendas are not available online, but as long as this issue is on the table, if you’re in the area, please make a point of attending upcoming meetings in a show of unified opposition to breed specific laws.

Please note that there have been reports of e-mails bouncing for the city council members, and the mayor’s e-mail is not made available, so you may want to address your correspondence to the city’s administrative assistant, Sue Hilburn, sent via fax or e-mail, with a polite request to distribute to each alderman and the mayor.

Administrative Assistant
Sue Hilburn
shilburn@cityofwalnutridge.com

City Hall
300 W. Main Street
Walnut Ridge, AR 72476
Phone: 870-886-6638
Fax: 870-886-6147

Walnut Ridge City Council:
wjones@cityofwalnutridge.com, bdixon@cityofwalnutridge.com, rcombs@cityofwalnutridge.com, jtaylor@cityofwalnutridge.com,
dwinfrey@cityofwalnutridge.com,  apinkston@cityofwalnutridge.com,
bwallin@cityofwalnutridge.com, elawson@cityofwalnutridge.com

Finally, on a personal note, I want to thank everyone for your messages and concern in response to my absence over the last few months. As you all know, my dogs mean the world to me, and while its hard to believe, Harlan, my perpetual puppy, the dog I thought would never grow out of adolescence, is closing in on 13, and has begun to act, and sadly, feel his age.  After Tiffin passed (at the age of 13), my heart was heavy with guilt over the time I spent with all the dogs here and, frankly, the enormous amount of time I spent with my butt planted in front of the computer. While I still have many dogs to share my time with, the one thing I can do is reduce the time I spend on the computer and devote that to my dogs. This doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned the fight against breed discrimination, and please know that I am always here for anyone that needs help. Of course, we can never know when our time here will come to pass, but I can know that I made every effort to spend as much time and give as much attention to Harlan as I possibly could.

To that end, I know that all of you have dogs that hold a very special place in your heart, and the responsible dog owners in Walnut Ridge are no exception.  Lets do our part to ensure that that they, too, have the opportunity to enjoy full and long lives with their beloved dogs, as well.

Please make your voice heard, and oppose this ordinance.

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