Breed Specific Legislation gives student new mission

doggyIn recent years, pit bulls have seen more constant challenges throughout the United States.  In West Des Moines there was a case involving a two-year-old pit bull named Palomo who  faced the legal system and possible death. Although pit bulls are notorious for fighting, that does not mean that all dogs, pit bulls especially, are going to harm humans.

Some cities are implementing laws banning pitbulls as pets such as the one in Denver, Colo. that was implemented in 1989.

According to the National Canine Research Council, “Breed-discriminatory Denver County, with a population of about twice that of breed-neutral Larimer County has more than seven times as many dog bite related hospitalizations during the same seventeen-year period.”

There is an estimated 4.7 million bites reported per year in the United States.

According to Erin Capps, a insurance agency owner, the most common breeds for biting are actually chihuahuas, wiener dogs, but when the larger dog breeds bite there is usually more damage done which usually means a larger claim on insurance.

This boils down to the larger breeds being grouped into a category called vicious breeds, and onto a list which sometimes appears in what is known as Breed Specific Legislation.

Most of this legislations centers on dogs,  are grouped into a type called, pit bulls. Although there isn’t a recognized breed called a pit bull according to the American Kennel Club, there are breeds such as the American Staffordshire terrier, the American pit bull terrier, and the Staffordshire terrier.

These dogs are also included in Iowa’s own ordinance law, which states as according to Chapter 18, Section 59-a, ‘upon complaint or reasonable suspicion that a particular dog is a vicious dog, the chief humane officer may cause the matter to be investigated. If after investigation, the chief humane officer determines that a particular dog is a vicious dog as defined in this chapter, the chief humane officer shall declare such dog to be a vicious dog.’ (Des Moines, Iowa, Code of Ordinances)

Is this law fair?

According to Jessica Pardekooper, the founder of a group called Peace for Pits, said, “breed specific legislation  hinders  a lot of people from owning these dogs that might be responsible. I don’t know how many people have come to me who are very responsible people, keep up to date with vet care, always interacting with their dogs, taking them for walks, things like that. That when they are caught up in an area that does have BSL, or an area where they live and passes BSL they are either forced to give up a dog they’ve had for years that has caused no problems or they have to move and that can cause hardships too. I just think its unfair to own any breed of dog, specifically an inherently  danger.”

Some ask if banning the breed solves the problem.

According to Iowa Code 351, if a dog does attack someone, “The owner of a dog shall be liable to an injured party for all damages done by the dog, when the dog is caught in the action of worrying, maiming,  or killing a domestic animal, or the dog is attacking or attempting to bite a person, except when the party damaged is doing an unlawful act, directly contributing to the injury…”

Are pit bulls as dangerous as people make them out to believe?

According to Pardekooper, “They’re awesome forgiving dogs, they love all the way, they’re easily trained if you work with them, they don’t have to be the mean, the vicious dog that that everyone thinks they are, and they actually rehabilitate pretty well. They are very people-oriented dogs so a kennel environment is not the best thing for them”

The dog type has a rough and brutal history as they are thought to be all bred for aggression and dog fighting. However, while there are some dangerous dogs how far is taking it to far?

Kimberly Stratton, a DMACC Ankeny nursing student, is a pit bull owner who has had an experience with a vicious person. When her dog was a puppy, she said, she had a neighbor who was really mean and nasty, and  she had put him outside for one minute, and her neighbor tried to kill her dog. He was throwing cinder blocks at her dog, and broke his back left foot, and  broke the third toe in three different places in a compound fracture. It was at that moment when she had to pay the vet bills and watch her dog be in pain that she realized that it was time for her to wake up and realize what being a pet owner is about.

Stratton said, the reason she loves pit bulls is because they are affectionate dogs, and have a need to please, and are extremely active.

“When we discriminate, categorize, and generalize about a specific breed, of dog we are making related inferences about the dogs owner as well. We are making assumptions that just because someone owns a Rottweiler, Pit-bull, Chow, or any other dog on the ridiculously long aggressive breed list, then that owner must not be responsible enough to control their dog, or research the behavior of the dog. We show them that we assume that they must not be attentive enough to train their dog correctly, or be aware of their dogs non verbal cues,” said Stratton.

Yet, it would appear that the laws are not working the way that lawmakers hoped that the laws would work.

“The basis of trying to keep citizens safe from these so called vicious dogs isn’t really working, since it has been proven that it hasn’t lowered any bite or mauling risk. That’s just taking out those particular breeds. And if you take out those breeds, then you might as well continue down the list with any large dog,” Pardekooper said.

“There is a lot of irresponsible owners out there, they don’t take the time to train their dog. Our dog’s can’t talk to us, you have to learn to read our body language and they don’t take time to establish a proper relationship with their animal. These are pack animals you have to be alpha over the dog, especially the one that has a lot of potential to overpower, and as long as you can retain that relationship, and keep your control over them, and do what you should be doing as an owner, there’s no reason your dog should be acting up,” said Stratton.

There is the claim that in recent years nearly half of the American population has been bitten by a dog before the age of twelve.

The most recent case involves a two-year old pit bull nicknamed ‘Killer’ who was reported to have bitten three people.  So far in that case, the owner seeked an appeal saying that the city supposedly acted illegally and unconstitutionally by declaring the dog vicious.

However, according to Steven Gaer, the mayor of West Des Moines, the laws are around are to protect the general public against vicious dog attacks.

Although Gaer also mentioned that breed specific laws in West Des Moines would be illegal since courts have ruled against cities that ban pit bulls and disabled people have pit bulls as licensed service animals.

There was a case where  a disabled Chicago police officer and his wife relocated, he found out that his service dog, Snickers was against the law since Snickers was a pitbull. The town that they were living in had a breed specific ordinance banning pit bulls expect those that had been registered prior to the ordinance. The ban included service dogs as well. So after the city continued to say that the dog was not allowed. The owner went to the ADA, and filed for Title II, which was a mandate to municipalities against discrimination of a disabled person. They won, and Snickers was to be returned to the family.

However, for most pit bull owners it isn’t the prospect of losing their dog that is the hardest: its the costs.

Stratton said, “I am affected financially, by paying for homeowners/ renters insurance, that covers my dog if anything should occur. I also had to purchase a dog run, because I  rent my house, and  it would be pointless for me to pay thousands of dollar out of pocket to place a six foot fence around my back yard. If I owned my home I would, but why should I give my landlord a free fence?”

Nationally, dog bites account for one-third of homeowner insurance claims with insurance companies paying out approximately $345 million of the $1 billion dollars that are associated with dog bites annually in the United States.

“That is why a lot of insurance companies have chosen to not insure a homeowner or a renter if they own pit bulls, rottweilers; there’s kind of a naughty list of dogs, for insurance companies and each company is different,” said Capps.

“I don’t understand how anyone’s hearts could be so cold to place my dog into a category because he was born into a certain family. He was picked the same as any other puppy, he was picked like any other puppy,” said Stratton.

There is a walk that is going to be held April 26th to help educate and promote pit bull friendliness. The walk will be held at noon starting at Evelyn Davis Park in Des Moines. For more information pertaining to the walk please contact Jessica Pardekooper at her phone number (515)-339-6142, or at her email jessthebullygirl@gmail.com.

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