After hearing about so-called “pit bull” attacks in Clinton and Waterloo, Iowa, Camanche, Iowa’s city attorney, Thomas Lonergan, just had to stir the pot, you know, to be “proactive,” and propose that Camanche likewise look into passing a “pit bull” ban. Lonergan proposed that,
“We could grandfather in the pit bulls that are already here and then over time they would eventually be banned from the city . . . We don’t want to take away the opportunity for present pit bull owners to have to get rid of their dog. But, if we don’t take some action and an incident occurs then we’re going to be wishing we had done something.”
And just like so many other municipalities considering BSL, Lonergan has offered an empty consolation to “pit bull” owners within the city by telling them they’ll be “grandfathered in.” Yet “grandfathering” as breed banning cities have defined it has been an ex post facto violation.
Saying that existing owners of “pit bulls” are grandfathered in while making them jump through all sorts of hoops — and historically this has meant registration, fencing/signage requirements, differential licensing, mandatory spay/neuter, mandatory microchipping, etc. — is not grandfathering them in. In fact it’s an end-around of the Constitution by actually changing the constitutional definition of the “ex post facto” clauses.
But then, with “pit bull” bans and other kinds of breed-specific legislation, we’ve seen all kinds of negation and bastardization of the Constitution. In fact, it’s almost like someone set out to negate or dilute fundamental constitutional rights using “pit bulls” as a pretense. Why the heck not? “Pit bulls” are used to scapegoat so many other things, why not likewise use them to erode or negate fundamental constitutional rights?
But I digress . . .
So is there even a problem in Camanche, or do they simply have ordinance envy? Well, while city officials claim to want to be “proactive,” let’s make sure they get the facts straight. First, Waterloo doesn’t have a “pit bull” problem; Waterloo has a free-roaming dog problem. Waterloo’s own Animal Control Officer Maria Tiller said,
“On the average week, I’ll take 2-3 calls a night . . . relating to neglected dogs, dogs running at large or dogs attacking other dogs or even people.”
And while she points to the increasing number of calls as a “problem with the breed,” she is mistaken. “Pit bull” is not a breed, and if the ACO is referring to “pit bulls” as if they were an actual breed, then her breed assessments are highly suspect.
Nor was the dog involved in the Waterloo attacks likely to have been one of the breeds Waterloo is now seeking to ban; dogs they too incorrectly call “pit bulls.” The dog that attacked 65-year old Vivienne Brookman and 13-year-old William McNealy in Waterloo was referred to as a “large pit bull.” As I said before, if by pit bull the Waterloo police meant American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, or Staffordshire Bull Terrier, these breeds cannot possibly be described as a large pit bull. These breeds do not get to be over 60-65 pounds unless they are obese, or are cross-bred with a larger breed, and in which case they’d be a mixed-breed. It sounds as if the dog in question may have been a mastiff, which are large-breed dogs commonly and erroneously referred to as pit bulls.
Second, Camanche City Administrator Tom Roth claims that,
“In a report from the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, the owner of one of the pit bulls said he had never had a problem with the dog before.”
It should be noted, and Mr. Roth did not make the distinction, that there were three dogs involved in the Waterloo attacks: A male dog described incorrectly as a “large pit bull,” a female “pit bull,” and a Boston Terrier. Reports vary as to whether the female “pit bull” and the Boston Terrier were actively attacking the victims, or just nearby. The female “pit bull” and Boston Terrier were owned by an owner whose dogs got out of his fenced yard. The male attacking dog, described incorrectly as a “large pit bull,” was a stray and as yet his owner has not been found. So the owner of the female “pit bull” and the Boston Terrier who said his dog had never been a problem, may still be correct that his dogs had not been a problem, and were not a problem on the day of the attacks.
Also, judging from Waterloo’s possible pursuit of a mandatory spay/neuter law for “pit bulls,” it sounds like the male attacking dog, who again was a stray, was not neutered. Unaltered dogs of any breed, particularly males, are much more likely to attack, particularly if they are free-roaming, which this dog was. A mandatory spay/neuter law isn’t going to prevent other attacks from occurring, because it was the fact that the unaltered dog was a free-roaming stray that caused the attack, and until Waterloo does something about their stray dog problem, these problems will persist. Again, the dog attack points to a free-roaming dog problem, not a breed problem.
So there are always mitigating factors when it comes to dog attacks and Waterloo and Camanche appear to be looking at none of them, opting instead to subscribe to long-ago debunked urban mythology about “pit bulls” that they supposedly attack without warning. This kind of hysterical response in lieu of looking at the facts and making a reasonable, rational conclusion, leads to knee-jerk legislation: In this case, a “pit bull” ban.
Even James Brookman, husband of attack victim Vivienne Brookman, told the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier that,
. . . he doesnt blames the dogs.
The pit bull breed has really got a stigma about it, that, to me, I dont think is founded. We have a lot of friends that have pit bulls, and they are as calm and collected as that one is, he said motioning to Brandy, the familys Lab-Shepherd mix, reclining on the floor of their home.
. . . He said he would like to see tougher laws so that owners held more accountable in cases of attacks.
If someone has to do time, maybe they will think a little bit longer on what they do with their dog, he said.
So there you have it. Even the victim and her husband don’t think there should be a “pit bull” ban; just tougher laws.
Indeed, there is ample evidence, which I repeat over and over on this site, that breed-specific legislation in any form does not keep communities safer — in fact, quite the opposite — which is why the CDC, the American Bar Association, and even President Obama and the White House urge against it. For instance, a 2011 Spanish study found that breeds deemed dangerous in Spain were no more aggressive or likely to bite than the control group, and that in fact larger-breed dogs, like the ones Spain designated dangerous, were actually much less likely to exhibit aggression.
Similarly, a German study found that no scientific basis for breed-specific legislation existed in Lower Saxony since no significant difference was found between aggression in Golden Retrievers in the control group and the dangerous breeds on the breed-specific lists. Following the study, the breed-specific lists in Lower Saxony were withdrawn.
In fact, worldwide, BSL has been failed legislation. Even cities like Hamilton, Ontario, and Winnipeg, Manitoba have had to acknowledge, although reluctantly, that their breed-specific bylaws have not lowered bite rates, and in Winnipegs case, have actually seen a rise in dog-bite rates. BSL has also been a failed policy in the U.S. in places like Denver and Miami-Dade County.
So, if both Waterloo and Camanche want to be proactive and prevent more dog attacks, they need to stop passing the buck to “pit bulls,” enforce their leash/containment laws, and assign more Animal Control Officers to police free-roaming dogs. And as James Brookman said, enact tougher laws, including jail time, so that there are deterrents for acting irresponsibly with a dog, no matter what the breed.