Baker City, Oregon May Consider Pit Bull Restrictions Via Dangerous Dog Law

After the mauling death of 5-year old Jordan Ryan in September by a so-called pit bull, Baker City, Oregon convened an ad hoc advisory committee headed by Baker City Police Chief Wyn Lohner to research and propose options for better control of potentially dangerous dogs.   Unfortunately, one of those options could be breed-specific legislation (BSL) since part of the proposal includes the possibility of outright declaring dangerous what the committee calls “known pit bull breeds.”  

But there are no “known pit bull breeds” because pit bull is not a breed.  Pit bulls are a type.   The slang term pit bull can refer to countless actual breeds, their mixes, and lookalikes, rendering statistics on pit bulls skewed and therefore meaningless.   Just ask Denver, who, while claiming pit bull ban success, cant seem to tell the difference between pit bulls, as they are defined by their own ordinance, and Boxers.

Additionally, and this is key after a dog bite-related fatality, breed bans or any kind of breed-specific legislation, are wholly ineffective as even the White House now acknowledges.   And even if the Obama administration hadn’t recently said,

“We dont support breed-specific legislation ” research shows that bans on certain types of dogs are largely ineffective and often a waste of public resources.”

the fact that dog bite-related hospitalizations have gone up significantly in cities like Denver and in counties like Miami-Dade who have both had pit bull bans for decades, should illustrate that BSL not only doesn’t keep the community safer, it makes it much less safe.  

Still, parts of the dangerous-dogs proposal would be highly effective if Animal Control didn’t have to waste their time trying to enforce an unenforceable breed-specific ordinance.   The non-breed-specific portions of the proposal include limiting licenses and/or more closely controlling licenses for dogs deemed dangerous or vicious; allowing a hearing officer or court to hear evidence before declaring a dog dangerous regardless of breed; prohibiting a dog to bite or attack people and animals (Why is this not already law?); requiring those bitten by a domestic animal to report the incident to the police immediately; and potentially impounding dogs declared a public nuisance by a hearing officer.

While the dangerous dog provisions are certainly preferable to breed-specific provisions, there are still some sticky parts to this proposal.   As I often write about dangerous dog laws, hearing officers or hearing administrators actually negate due process.   When a dog owner is accused of something as serious as harboring a vicious dog that has hurt someone, proper procedure needs to be followed, including allowing the accused dog owner his or her due process rights which includes having the right to defend oneself in a proper court of law with a proper judge, not an administrative hearing officer.  

Another of the proposal’s provisions defines dangerous behavior as  biting; causing injury; and unprovoked approaching or chasing in a menacing fashion.”   There is no such thing as “unprovoked approaching” for a dog, but if you look at many dangerous dog laws, you will often find language that defines a dangerous dog as one that attacks without warning.  

There is no such thing as a dog breed that doesnt give warning signs before it attacks or that attacks unprovoked (and its doubtful that there has ever been a dog that has truly attacked without warning or unprovoked). For instance, the parenting section of a typical question-answer website informs parents of the common signs of an impending dog bite or attack ” which can include stiffening, raised hackles, a standing tail, a showing of the whites of the eyes, and of course bared teeth and growling ” adding,

Dogs typically dont attack without warning.   In most cases, dogs are sending subtle cues that signal distress before resorting to an attack.

Simply because people may be ignorant of the subtle cues that a dog of any breed may give before attacking, doesnt mean they arent there. Still, the dogs attacking without warning or the “unprovoked” attack of the so-called pit bull seem to be urban myths that simply won’t die, and now it appears they have made their way into a dangerous dog law.

And besides the breed-specific portion of the proposal, I take issue with the same provisions we’ve been seeing in this same “model” dog law for years: Requiring dogs deemed dangerous or vicious to constantly be kept inside or in an enclosure; to be muzzled while in public; to be kept out of city property including parks.   For dogs who have simply been declared vicious based solely on their breed and not their behavior, constant containment is animal cruelty and could potentially bring about the very behavior the proposal seeks to curb.

There are other provisions and exemptions in the 14-page proposal, and you can read them here, but the troublesome aspects of the proposal will obviously be the breed-specific portion, the administrative hearings, and the extremely restrictive enclosure requirements.    

It is uncertain how long it will take the proposal to reach the city council and be considered as an ordinance.   In the interim, hopefully the advisory committee and the council undertake their own independent research and come to understand that BSL is ineffective legislation that actually makes communities less safe, and after a child’s death, that is the absolute last thing a community should want.  


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