South Bend, Indiana Still Working to Remove Breed-Specific Legislation, Restrict Tethering

As we learned in May, South Bend, Indiana is working to remove its “breed discrimination policies” and add some restrictions on tethering to its municipal code.   Councilwoman Valerie Schey asserted during a work session on Thursday, August 8, 2013, that South Bends municipal code prejudicially deems American Pit Bull Terriers as a dangerous breed,” arguing that “other large dogs like Boxers and mixed breeds are mistaken” for American Pit Bull Terriers.   Indeed, which is why we so often write on this blog that “pit bull” is not a breed.     Ms. Schey is also correct that countless breeds, mixes, and lookalikes are frequently incorrectly deemed “pit bulls.”  

For instance, cities like Denver and Toledo have repeatedly had difficulty determining what is and is not a “pit bull” as defined by their own ordinances.   Though Denver city officials repeatedly brag about the supposed success of their “pit bull” ban, they fail to mention that in the 2004 case of Margolius v. The City of Denver, it was shown that Mr. Margolius’ due process rights were violated when Denvers own Animal Control Officers could not discern what was and was not a “pit bull” as defined by their own ordinance.   Denver violated dog owners’ due process rights again when the Denver Daily News reported that in January 2011 (and in 2009) Denver’s Animal Control officers could not tell the difference between a Boxer mix and what Denver’s ordinance defined as a “pit bull.”  

Former Lucas County, Ohio Dog Warden Tom Skeldon likewise used to brag about Toledos pit bull ban until it was revealed in a Toledo news article that 54% of the dogs Skeldon had killed were dogs he called pit bulls.   Yet court testimony determined that,

[Skeldon] acknowledged that even if a dog was 50 per cent pit bull, if it did not ˜look like a pit bull, the owner would not be charged. On the other hand, if a dog did look like a pit bull, it would be classified as a pit bull and the owner would be subject to the ˜vicious dog laws. No definitive description of a ˜pit bull was presented. The warden also acknowledged that there is really no way to tell if a dog is or is not a ˜pit bull and the determination is made by his or a deputys subjective judgment. [Emphasis mine.]

In other words, Skeldon and other ACOs in Toledo were just arbitrarily killing dogs, and lots of them, because, as the court testimony shows, Skeldon was unable to discern what was and was not a pit bull as defined by Toledos own ordinance.    

So yes, Ms. Schey is absolutely correct that breed-specific legislation, particularly for so-called “pit bulls,” has historically been responsible for the mislabeling of countless breeds of dogs, their mixes, and lookalikes.   And as you can also see, what cities like Denver and Toledo called “success” was really just the killing of a substantial percentage of the dog population that they consistently mislabeled “pit bulls.”  

The committee tasked with revising South Bend’s municipal code will meet again later this month during which time, besides rewriting the code specific to American Pit Bull Terriers, they will also discuss adding anti-tethering language to the municipal code to reduce the length of time dogs spend tethered outside.

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