Legislation making its way through both houses of the Missouri General Assembly would overturn bans on pit bulls in Independence and dozens of other Missouri cities.
“Why is it the pit bull that’s the bad guy in it, when other breeds do the same thing?” said Rep. Ron Hicks, R-St. Peters.
His bill says municipalities can “prohibit dogs from running at large or to further control or regulate dogs” as long as those rules are not specific to any breed. He said that bill will come out of committee today. A nearly identical bill in the Senate got a committee hearing earlier this week.
Independence, which enacted a ban seven and a half years ago, doesn’t like the idea.
“From a city standpoint, we believe locally elected officials (should) have local control,” said City Manager Robert Heacock.
Dogsbite.org finds 47 Missouri cities that ban pit bulls – a few also ban Rottweilers and Doberman pinschers – and several others have declared them vicious or dangerous. Cities with bans include Independence, Buckner, Kearney, Liberty, Kansas City and Platte City.
Dogsbite.org also says pit bulls accounted for 25 of the 32 fatal dog-bite attacks in the U.S. in 2013.
Heacock said every city’s history is different. The ban in Independence was spurred on by a couple of pit bull attacks, including one in 2006 in which resident Alan Hill almost died.
Hill was mowing a lot on 23rd Street when two pit bulls attacked. He lost five pints of blood, was in intensive care for two weeks and sustained what a judge later ruled were disfiguring and disabling injuries. That judge awarded him more than $7 million, to be paid by the dogs’ owners and others. The dogs also attacked and injured two other people in that incident.
Hill’s sister-in-law collected 4,401 signatures on a petition to ban pit bulls in the city, and the City Council voted to do that later in 2006.
“It was a long process,” Heacock said. “We had a number of meetings.”
The city at that time also loosened its rule limiting owners to no more than two dogs and two cats, instead allowing up to four animals – dogs, cats or a mix.
“We try to be very reasonable with that,” Heacock said, adding that he understands the passion people have for pit bulls.
But 17 states no longer allow local breed-specific bans. The argument is that they just don’t work.
“It doesn’t address the real issue,” said Courtney Thomas, president and CEO of the Great Plains chapter of the Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which runs the Regional Animal Shelter in Independence.
The SPCA fully supports Hicks’s bill.
“It would be a huge advance for the community,” Thomas said.
The real issue is dangerous dogs, and banning pit bulls gives a false sense of security, she said.
“Any dog can bite, and any breed can do harm,” she said.
There are other costs “because I’ve got a shelter full of them in Independence that I can’t send back to the community,” Thomas said.
Hicks said this is fundamentally about dog owners’ property rights, and he said the issue is not about the breed of animal but how it’s trained and treated.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s the owner” who causes problems, he said.
He insisted he’s not trying to curb cities’ powers, and he said his bill won’t mean dogs running in the streets.
“Cities can still manage their local-control issues, as long as it’s not breed-specific,” Hicks said.
Hicks said so far there’s been not much opposition to his bill.
“I’m here to tell you,” he said, “there’s more telling me I’m doing a good thing than a bad thing.”