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Should the pit bull ban end?

Mike Genet

A citizen committee recommends Independence repeal its “breed specific” legislation – commonly known as the pit bull ban.

The recommendation, from a majority of members of the Advisory Board of Health and the Animal Welfare Committee, also suggests an education campaign about the city’s dangerous dog ordinance. No decision is imminent, Mayor Eileen Weir said, as the City Council must consider its next steps.

“There’s a little more work that needs to be done,” Weir said.

Independence banned pit bulls in 2006 after a handful of high-profile attacks led to one victim's relative leading a petition drive that netted more than 4,000 signatures. A council majority then voted for the ban.

The council could approve or deny a resolution to repeal the pit bull ordinance, it could invite a citizen petition and then act on that or put it on the ballot, or it could just directly put the issue on the ballot.

Jason White from the health board chaired a subcommittee of members from both groups. That subcommittee met and did research last year and conducted a hearing in November, which netted many opinions on repealing the ban or putting it to a citizen vote but also some passionate voices to keep the ban.

“Our responsibility is to provide a report,” Jason White told members of the two groups last week. “The reality is the council has a set of options, and all of us will be part of the conversation.”

The citizen petition option would push the issue well into 2021, he said. Also, he pointed out, action at the state level could make everything moot.

“There’s a lot of energy on this in Jefferson City,” White said. “There’s been a lot of legislation filed that would prohibit cities from having breed-specific legislation.”

The latest attempt at such legislation had made some headway before the pandemic hit.

White said that even before the pandemic, he had waited a bit to draft a recommendation because he didn’t want to insert such a report into the middle of council elections.

White outlined some of the reasons for repeal:

• It’s hard to determine what is and and isn’t a pit bull or pit mix.

• There are dogs with problematic and dangerous behavior regardless of breed.

• Having a pit bull ban can give citizens a false sense of security.

• Enforcement is predicated on turning in neighbors, which professional evaluation nationally indicates is not an effective way to protect against dangerous animals.

The group received a legal opinion, White said, that the city’s current dangerous dog ordinance is solid and with review could provide the same effect as a pit bull ban.

Health Board Member Don Potts, a retired doctor, said he “violently opposed” repealing the ordinance, citing a couple dog attacks against children that he remembers treating.

“I will never forget some of the terrible things that were done by those animals to a child’s face and ear and to another child’s leg,” Potts said. “I know they were both by pit bulls.”

“Whatever I can do to help whatever bad animals out of the city,” he added, “I’ll do it.”

Weir said a citizen petition has always been an option, but it’s clear that the city’s ban hasn’t prevented a population of pit bulls or pit mixes in the city.

“One thing the report says is it’s very subjective about how to identify these breeds, which I concur with them,” the mayor said. “If we can make our dangerous dog ordinance stronger, I’m certainly in favor of that.”