Category Archives: Pit Bulls/Breed Specific Legislation

Pit Bulls, Breed Specific Legislation, BSL

Rogersville, TN: Residents ask city to repeal 30-year-old “pit bull” ordinance

This is a follow-up to our post from last month regarding the 30-year-old “pit bull” ban in Rogersville, TN.

Several pit bull owners attended the May 8, 2018 Rogersville Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) meeting to ask the city to lift a pit bull ban that has been in effect since 1982.

The law, which has not been enforced for decades, and which, apparently, many residents were not aware of, was brought to the public’s attention last month via a news article announcing  upcoming changes to the city’s animal control ordinance.  One of the changes was to the section addressing “pit bulldogs.”  The revised ordinance states, among other things, a dog falls under the classification of “pit bull” if a vet confirms animal control’s designation that it is at least 50 percent pit bull.  (Good luck with that.)

One of the residents in attendance at the meeting advised the Board that when notice of the new ordinance was publicized last month, her landlord notified her that “if the ban passes,” she would be required to remove her dogs or move.  (Due to the misleading wording of the article in the Rogersville Review last month, many people thought a “pit bull ban” was a completely new section of the revised ordinance.)  As noted above, while the ban has been on the books for decades, it hasn’t been enforced.

After residents addressed the aldermen, they were advised that in order to repeal the pit bull ban, an alderman would have to introduce a new ordinance at a later meeting.

The second reading of the revised animal control ordinance was approved 6-0…as is.

The city is required to have one more reading on the proposed ordinance and, if approved, residents may have lost their best opportunity to repeal the section of the ordinance targeting “pit bulls.”  Yes, a resident can request the issue be revisited and put on the agenda at any time, but animal control is on the agenda NOW and, if I understand correctly, an alderman could simply revise the ordinance currently before the Board, and exclude the language regarding “pit bulls.”

Residents of Rogersville, PLEASE reach out to your city officials and ask them to (re)introduce the new ordinance with the breed specific language removed.  Talking points and additional information can be found in our previous post regarding Rogersville.

The Board will next meet on Tuesday, June 12, 2018 at 7:00 p.m.

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Time for Rogersville, TN to repeal pit bull ordinance

At their board meeting on April 10, 2018, the Mayor and Aldermen of Rogersville, Tennessee passed the first reading of an ordinance updating their current animal control Code, Ordinance 4-10-18-1.  One of the main changes to the ordinance is terminology.  For instance, the only animal referred to throughout the existing ordinance is “dogs.”  The new Code will refer to dogs, cats, and other domesticated animals.  With the exception of a few amendments over the years, the Code had not been updated since 1952, and some of the new issues addressed are animals at large, inoculations, rabies vaccinations, confinement, etc.

The article in the Rogersville Review regarding these changes is misleading in that it states, “among other things, the new code section, prohibits Pit Bulldogs within the corporate limits of Rogersville,” seemingly implying this is new to the Code.  As noted above, sections to the Code have been added throughout the years, and one of those sections was §10-206. “Pit bulldogs.”

Section 10-206 was added to the city code in June 1988, and currently states:

It shall be unlawful for any person to allow any pit bulldog owned by such person, or in the control of such person, to be located in the corporate limits of the Town of Rogersville at any time.  The owner and/or the person having control of any pit bulldog found within the corporate limits of the Town of Rogersville shall be deemed to be in violation of this section and shall be subject to the penalties as provided in this code.

The language of §10-206 has been amended in the version currently before the Board as follows:

It shall be unlawful for any person to allow any pit bulldog owned by such person, or in the control of such person, to be located in the corporate limits of the Town of Rogersville at any time.  A citation may be issued by the animal control officer for any dog the animal control officer initially determines to be 50% or more pit bulldog or which dog may exhibit aggressive tendencies to human being [sic] or domesticated animals.  The initial determination by the animal control officer shall be confirmed by a licensed veterinarian with three (3) days of the issuance of said citation for violation of this section.  The owner and/or the person having control of any pit bulldog found within the corporate limits of the Town of Rogersville shall be deemed to be in violation of this section and shall be subject to the penalties as provided in this code.

In addition, the ordinance defines “Owner” as follows:

Any person having a right of property in a domesticated animal or who keeps or harbors a domesticated animal, or who has it in his/her care, or acts as its custodian, or who permits a domesticated animal to remain on or about his/her premises.

While Tennessee law defines dogs as “property,”  the city’s acknowledgment of the dog owner as a property owner opens the door for discussions on repealing Section 10-206, as breed specific legislation infringes on the property rights of dog owners.

Despite the negative connotation some may associate with labeling dogs as “property,” 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  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. However, 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, and the city opens itself up to litigation.

In addition, it is simply impossible to determine a dog to be 50% or more pit bull-type dog.  With respect to breed identification and “pit bull bans” specifically, it is important to note that “pit bull” is not a breed of dog but, rather, it is a generic term used to describe a grouping of dogs with similar physical traits or characteristics. There are several breeds that possess the physical characteristics of pit bull type dogs. Most animal control and/or law enforcement officers are not able to identify specific breeds of dogs with any degree of accuracy because those commonly stated physical characterizes are too similar in many breeds.  When you add mixed-breed dogs to the scenario, the difficulty increases exponentially.  In essence, those determining a dog’s breed in Rogersville are simply guessing.

Moreover, when the Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS) drafted their pit bull ordinance (which is the ordinance most commonly used by Tennessee municipalities), DNA testing to determine breed was not available. Today, DNA testing is available to identify a dog’s breed, and since the burden of breed identification lies on the city, the city must pay for the DNA testing rather than relying on a subjective and arbitrary guess as to the breed of a dog.

In light of this, I would encourage ALL dog owners to attend the next Rogersville Board of Aldermen meeting on May 8, 2018 at 7:00 p.m. to request this issue be added to the agenda.  Residents need to encourage  city officials to repeal the portion of their animal control ordinance that targets “pit bulls.”  As animal control is already an agenda item, and removing the breed specific language would promote community safety and well-being of all who reside there, it seems natural to include this issue in the current discussions.

Residents may also consider providing a copy of the Repealing Breed Specific Legislation Toolkit to their city officials for their consideration. They might also inform their elected officials that breed bans have been proven so ineffective that 21 states prohibit the passage of breed specific legislation.  Finally, residents should review our recommendations for effective communications with officials in order to politely and respectfully convey their request to them.

As noted above, this discriminatory law has been on the books for THIRTY years….its time for positive change, and residents of Rogersville are the only ones who can make that happen.

Doyle, Tennessee considering ban on “pit bulls”

At their April board meeting, officials in Doyle, Tennessee proposed a ban on “pit bull” type dogs.  The issue was brought up by Mayor Ray Spivey following a recent incident allegedly involving a “pit bull” attacking livestock and chasing a resident of Doyle. The dog was tethered in a resident’s yard, and broke free from the tether.

According to the article published on SpartaLive.com, the Board unanimously decided to review the breed specific ordinance of their neighbor, Sparta, TN.  They will continue discussions on this issue during next month’s Board meeting on May 1, 2018 at 7:00 p.m.  

Doyle is an extremely small town in White County, with a population of approximately 600 people. The town does not have an animal control officer, and will depend upon the services of the small, financially strapped White County animal shelter.  The one animal control officer serves the entire county consisting of close to 400 square miles.

It is my understanding that Doyle does have a significant problem with dogs running at large. Interestingly, scant few citations are issued for this or any animal control issues.  If you’re not writing citations, you’re not discouraging irresponsible ownership.  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. Community safety is achieved by strictly enforcing animal control laws that are already in place, not passing laws that single out dogs based on appearance, and that reckless and negligent dog owners have already proven to hold with little to no regard.

As noted above, the Board will be reviewing Sparta’s ordinance targeting “pit bulls,” which the ordinance defines as “bull terriers, American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, mixes of the aforementioned breeds, and any dog that has the appearance and characteristics of a ‘pit bull’ as defined above.”

Accordingly, please take a moment to send a polite, respectful and informative letter in opposition to breed specific legislation to the Doyle officials. Encourage them to strictly enforce the existing animal control ordinance and start giving out citations for violations.  Point out the costs to tax payers and the added stress to precious animal control resources, as well as the difficulty in identifying a “pit bull,” and the liability that falls on the city when a dog is misidentified as a “pit bull.”  Let them know that breed specific ordinances infringe on the property rights of dog owners; and stress to them that responsible ownership is key.  In a town of this size, educating the public on responsible dog ownership can be easily accomplished and would best serve all members of the community – people and animals alike.

Talking points to support these arguments for your letters can be found here.

Individual e-mail contact information is not available for the Board members, but you may send your letters, via the city clerk, to townofdoyle@yahoo.com with a polite request to forward a copy to the Mayor and each member of the Board.

Again, the Board will be discussing this issue on Tuesday, May 1, 2018 at 7:00 p.m.  Doyle residents may address the Board, and will need to call the town clerk to add their names on the meeting agenda.  We need your support and we need a BIG crowd to show up.  You don’t have to live in Doyle or White County and you don’t have to address the Board — you just need to be opposed to breed specific legislation.

Town of Doyle
104 Doyle Circle Drive
Doyle, TN 38559
Phone:  (931) 657-2459
E-mail:  townofdoyle@yahoo.com

Finally, I encourage ALL White County residents to call Doyle town hall and let them know you do not support this proposal. Why?  Because if this ordinance passes, YOUR taxes will be funding it, and YOUR resources will be drained.  The funding for the White County’s animal shelter is already limited, and passing an ordinance like this takes the focus (and funding) away from routine, effective enforcement of animal control laws that have the best chance of making a REAL difference in the community.

Victoria (AU) set to reverse ban on registering “dangerous breeds”

The government of Victoria (Australia) is set to reverse its ban on registering “dangerous breeds” which include: pit bull terriers, Japanese tosas, dogo Argentinos, presa canarios and fila Brasileiros.

Under current law, dogs that meet the physical characteristics of the above breeds that weren’t registered with the government before 2011 are automatically subject to seizure and potential execution.  Their owners are, however, entitled to hearings before a Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).   Its no secret that the very publicized hearings held before VCAT have been unsuccessful, in great part because positive breed identification was the burden of the governing body.

According to the Agriculture Minister, “it was too difficult to identify specific breeds, with ­owners having taken protracted legal actions to overturn [VCAT] rulings.”  After these protracted legal actions, some of which literally cost tax payers hundreds of thousands of dollars, the VCAT rulings were overturned because identification was deemed as subjective and mere speculation.

In fact, a case that involved a dog named Kerser went to the Supreme Court after a VCAT found Kerser to be a “pit bull.”  An official with the Monosh government made this determination via visual identification based on Kerser’s physical characteristics meeting the guidelines on an overly broad and vague checklist.  A judgment was entered by the Supreme Court in December 2013.  The Court overturned the VCAT ruling, and stated with respect to the breed determination procedure:

 In truth, [her] conclusion – whether it be described as being based on her own observation or an impression – could be no more than speculation. The tribunal’s ability to inform itself in any way it sees fit does not extend to engaging in guesswork.

The Victorian Agriculture Minister has admitted that the law regarding restricted breeds is NOT working and, further, it is ineffective and extremely costly.  Moreover, after the judgment in Kerser’s case was issued, the city of Monosh released a statement on their website stating that the State government’s laws regarding banned breeds were “unworkable,” and declaring that residents should not have to keep paying for their “lazy and half-baked law making.”

This new action by the Victorian government will allow owners of pit bulls and other banned breeds to register their dogs, but its important to note that those dogs will be subject to restrictions including, mandatory spay/neuter, microchip, and “escape-proof” housing.  They must also be muzzled and kept on a leash when off their properties, and owners must display a special warning sign in front of homes.

Some news outlets are reporting that future government talks could focus on “deed not breed,” and actually put laws in place that declare dogs as “dangerous” based on their actions and behavior.  For now, this is a step in the right direction, and I have no doubt that breed advocates in Australia will continue to push forward until BSL is just an ugly chapter in their history books.

Sources:

Skynews.com:  (http://tinyurl.com/z8yrmbk)

The Australian:  (http://tinyurl.com/juhz2ps)

MICHIGAN SB 239 would PROHIBIT breed specific ordinances!

In 2015, a bill was presented in the Michigan Senate that would prohibit local governments from enacting breed specific legislation.  That bill, SB 239, passed in the state Senate, and it is currently pending before the House of Representatives Local Government Committee.

Senator David Robertson sponsored SB 239 because he believes that no dog should be banned from a community based on its appearance.  In his remarks to the House Committee on Wednesday, Senator Robertson stated:

“[Breed specific laws] do not advance public safety, and [they] miss the mark. Outright banning of a domesticated breed is wrong because it’s not central to the point that the owner is squarely responsible for the behavior of their dog.”

Not only do breed specific laws take the onus off problem dog owners, they act as a cover for the true “problem dogs” in the community, all the while giving residents a false sense of security.  Moreover, it is extremely difficult to accurately identify a dog’s breed by its appearance.  While this law would protect all dogs, we would be remiss if we didn’t point out that most breed specific ordinances target “pit bulls,” which is not a breed of dog.  Many purebred dogs (and lets not forget dogs of mixed breeding) can and do resemble the physical characteristics of breeds that commonly end up on banned breed lists.  A dog’s appearance is not an indicator of the danger it presents, nor should it be a death sentence.

Breed specific laws infringe the property rights of responsible dog owners, and responsible owners should not be barred from owning any type or breed of dog based solely on the appearance of a dog.  The most effective ordinances are generic, breed-neutral laws that focus on the behavior and actions of individual dogs, as well as irresponsible, careless and reckless dog owners.

Finally, breed specific ordinances are costly to enforce, and they often spark lawsuits that must be defended by the municipalities that enact them, and ALL the costs associated with the same come directly from the tax payers.

Michiganders, do you want your hard earned tax dollars used to enforce laws that not only target innocent family pets and law abiding citizens, but also infringe on the rights of responsible pet owners for no reason other than their dog meets certain physical characteristics found on a very broad and vague checklist?

The Committee did not take a vote on SB 239 on Wednesday, but a vote is expected sometime this fall.

MICHIGAN RESIDENTS:  Please reach out to the members of the Local Government Committee, and politely and respectfully encourage them to pass SB 239 to enhance the safety and the lives of both people and animals in Michigan.  Contact information for the Committee members can be found at the link below, or you can send your correspondence to the Committee Clerk, Mary Lou Terrien (mterrie@house.mi.gov), with a polite request to please distribute to each Committee member.

In addition, please also reach out to your respective House and Senate members.  If you do not know who your elected officials are, you can find out here:

Find your Senator: http://www.senate.michigan.gov/fysbyaddress.html

Find your House Representativehttp://www.house.mi.gov/mhrpublic/

House Local Government Committee: http://house.michigan.gov/mhrpublic/committeeinfo.aspx?comkey=341

Lee Chatfield, Committee Chair

Amanda Price

Kurt Heise

David Maturen

Jim Runestad

Jason Sheppard

Lana Theis

Jeremy Moss

Charles Brunner

David Rutledge

Sheldon Neeley  

As always, it is so very important to be polite and respectful in all your communications with officials.  Our interactions DO make an impression, and our actions and words do effect the way our message is received.

Newark, Ohio set to REPEAL pit bull ordinance

Good news out of Newark, Ohio!

At their April 4, 2016 meeting, the Newark, Ohio city council voted to adopt Ordinance 16-07A – an ordinance that eliminates the breed specific language from the city code.  In effect, the ordinance removes the special designation of “vicious dog” to pit bull-type dogs and aligns the city code with state law.

After lengthy discussion and input from several citizens at the April 4 meeting that was jam packed with residents, a motion was made to table the ordinance until the next committee meeting. That motion failed in a 6-5 vote, and the discussion continued on.

A vote was then taken to adopt the ordinance, which resulted in a 5-5 tie.  Those who voted against ending breed discrimination in Newark were Councilmembers Bubb, Cost, Floyd, Hall and Rolletta.

Ultimately, the tie-breaker came down to Council President Don Ellington who, in weighing all the arguments, believed passage of the ordinance would both enhance the safety of the citizens of Newark and encourage dog owners to be more responsible, cast the final vote to pass Ordinance 16-07A.

Mr. Ellington announced that the ordinance would be enacted within 30 days.

I wanted to share with you a portion of the argument of Councilman Jeff Rath, one of the members who introduced the ordinance.  Mr. Rath obviously understands his role as a public servant and representative of the people who put him in office:

“As far as why we have introduced this legislation, for me, I have kind of led this charge for a while….

…look around.  There are a lot of people in this chamber, both for and against this, but there have been a lot of people who have been pushing for this for a very long time, and those people have done everything that it has taken to have their voice heard. I feel, personally, as an elected official, that it is our job to allow their voice to be heard. So whether I was for or against this, when there are this many people that are coming out on an issue and want to have their voice heard, then I think that it is their right to have it heard…. If I have to introduce legislation to represent them that nobody else will, then I will do that. I commend all of you for getting up and speaking and for following this through for as long as you have.

To me, this is about making Newark safer. This is going to eliminate a significant administrative responsibility of our animal control officer. Without him having to do [those administrative duties], it is going to free up a lot of his time to actually pursue vicious animals…to actually pursue other animal issues that we have in our city.

There is also the issue of what is a pit bull? There are cases going through our courts right now through the Licking County court system that could possibly eliminate breed specific legislation state wide. Pit bull is such an arbitrary term. What is a pit bull? Is it this kind of terrier or that kind of terrier? Its not a specific breed, and its very difficult to identify. [This ordinance] eliminates discrimination. There are a lot of good dog owners that are being discriminated against simply because of the type of dog that they have. They are forced to jump through a lot of hoops, and to me, that is just over stepping government, and its just not right. [This ordinance] increases owner accountability.”

The council minutes can be found on the City of Newark’s website, and you can read all the arguments both for and against the ordinance there.

I had a wonderful conversation with the council clerk this afternoon who confirmed that the amendment removes any and all reference to “pit bulls” and deems all dogs as vicious based on their actions and behaviors.  She also confirmed that Mayor Hall signed the ordinance the night of the council meeting, April 4, which means it goes into effect TOMORROW, May 4, 2016. 

Congratulations Newark!  Years of hard work paid off…you did it! This is a GREAT win for your community and for common sense dog laws that focus on behavior instead of breed.

Etowah, TN: Registration ordinance opportunity to discuss multitude of problems with visual breed identification

The town of Etowah, Tennessee passed a pit bull ordinance in October 2012.  I was one of a limited number of people permitted to be present in the hearing room during the commissioner’s meeting, and I can tell you without a hint of doubt, passage of the ordinance was a done deal long before the meeting took place that night.  You can find my summary of the  2012 commissioner’s meeting here.  After a very well organized and extremely positive campaign led by Etowah resident, Sherri Cooper, to prevent the ordinance from passing, pit bull owners were treated with what can only be labeled as disdain.

With regard to the most recent incident which generated this headline by WTVC news, “Dog bite forces city of Etowah to begin stricter pit bull ban enforcement,” I spoke with an Etowah Public Works official today for clarification on what exactly is going on.  I was advised that as a result of the incident on March 9, 2016, ALL dogs must be registered with the city.  This is actually a policy that’s been in place for years, but it hasn’t been enforced.  In order to comply with the law, all dog owners are required to bring their registration paperwork to the city.  If the breed of the dog is left blank, or the dog is labeled a “mixed breed,” owners will have to provide photographs of their dog.  The official then went on to explain that visual identification is not left up to a single employee, and that multiple employees or city officials opine on what they believe the breed of the dog in question is.

I took the opportunity to stress the inaccuracies and the problems associated with breed identification via a dog’s appearance alone – especially when dealing with mixed breed dogs and those that are labeled “pit bulls,” and, it can’t be stressed enough, when performed by individuals with no particular experience or expertise in breed identification or, for that matter, dogs in general.  In fact, many veterinarians and animal control officers – those who work with a variety of dogs day in and day out – agree that visual breed identification is not an accurate method to determine a dog’s breed.  The city official agreed, and for the record, is not a fan of the pit bull ordinance or this procedure.

With respect to the “pit bull” ordinance specifically, I was advised that it is the city’s position that dog owners have the responsibility to prove their dog is or is not a pit bull.  This is absolutely incorrect.  It is the city’s obligation to prove the dog is or is not a member of a regulated breed and, as such, the city should foot the bill for DNA testing.  However, the city acknowledged in 2012 that they did not have the funds to enforce the law, nor did they have all the procedures in place to implement the law.  Rather, the city manager advised that  all the details would eventually just fall into place.

So…how’s that working out?

You cannot pass ANY law, animal control or otherwise, knowing (1) the funding or means to enforce the law are not available and (2) procedures and/or plans on the law’s implementation have not been considered or worked out.  This law was passed simply so city commissioners could say that they did “something” to fix a “problem” that never existed in the first place.

If you plan on going to the commissioner’s meeting on March 28, it’s important to understand the issue on the table – the rules currently being discussed apply to all dogs. I would  recommend bringing to the commission’s attention your suggestions on how to promote responsible dog ownership in Etowah and how to hold dog owners accountable for the actions of their dogs without trampling on the property rights of any given group of people (i.e., pit bull owners or dog owners in general).  I would also suggest providing the commissioners with copies of studies** on the inaccuracies and the many problems associated with visual breed identification.  An inaccurate visual breed identification could have a devastating impact on a responsible family whose dog has never caused a problem or had any issues.  It could result in a good dog ending up in a shelter or worse simply because its owners couldn’t afford to comply with a discriminatory law that shouldn’t apply to them in the first place.

Despite the dramatic headline, the pit bull ordinance is not being strengthened.  Its been in place since October 2012.  That being said, by all means, residents are strongly encouraged to urge the city commission to take up the issue of repealing the pit bull ordinance and keep asking until the issue is put on the agenda.  City officials change.  As I always say, your voice matters, and your vote can bring in a new commissioner that could upset the apple cart on the vote tally of those in favor of the existing breed specific law.  In fact, two new commissioners were elected in 2014 – David James and Jason Cardin.  Have you asked them what their position on the pit bull ordinance is?

Moreover (and very importantly), the terms for Jim Bull and Jim Swaye – both of whom voted for the pit bull ordinance – are up in August 2016.  VOTE THEM OUT!   If there are no viable candidates, consider running yourself.  As the saying goes, be the change you want to see in the world (or at least in your little part of the world).  Etowah deserves city commissioners who will be fair and open-minded, not enter into discussions with their minds already made up on an issue, and not judge fellow residents based on stereotypes.

As we all know, a dog’s appearance is an inappropriate and flawed manner in which to ascertain the threat a dog poses to the community. A more reasonable and accurate method to identify a dangerous dog is by its behavior, not its breed. The pit bull ordinance in Etowah penalizes all pit bull owners while allowing owners of dogs who do pose a real and actual threat to the community to be let off the hook.  Residents of Etowah should continue to convey this message grounded in concern not just for their dogs, but for the welfare and safety of all the members of their community to their city officials.

Bottom line, don’t give up.  There are a lot of dedicated and determined dog owners in Etowah – I’ve met them, I’ve worked with them.   Positive change is possible, and you can make it happen! It may not happen overnight or even right away, but it can happen.

**Studies on the inaccuracies of visual breed identification:

Inconsistent Identification of Pit Bull-Type Dogs by Shelter Staff

Is that Dog a Pit Bull?  A Cross-Country Comparison of Perceptions of Shelter Workers Regarding Breed Identification

Incorrect Breed Identification Costs Dogs Their Lives

Inaccuracy of Breed Labels Assigned to Dogs of Unknown Origin

Comparison of Visual and DNA Breed Identification of Dogs and Inter-Observer Reliability