Yakima, WA Pit Bull Ban Study Session: It’s Complicated

The Yakima, Washington City Council met Tuesday, November 12, 2013, for a study session.   Under consideration was whether to repeal Yakima’s 26-year old breed-specific legislation (BSL), a pit bull ban, or whether to simply tweak it or leave it as is.    

While  Yakima’s Code Administration Manager Joe Caruso staunchly supported leaving Yakima’s circa 1987 poorly-written pit bull ban as is, the Yakima City Council seemed to be leaning towards repeal.   However, the study session ended with one apparently frustrated city council member saying, “It’s complicated.”

Is it really all that complicated?   Even a recent dog-attack victim,  Ed Gefroh, who was attacked by three so-called pit bulls in August in Yakima illustrates that breed-specific legislation, in this case a pit bull ban, doesn’t work.   After all, how was it that Mr. Gefroh was attacked by dogs that were supposed to have been banned?   In that sense, how is Yakima safer with the pit bull ban?

To put that another way, someone owned the three dogs that attacked Mr. Gefroh and allowed them to free-roam regardless of Yakima’s pit bull ban, which is why we so often say that irresponsible owners of banned or restricted breeds will either disregard the BSL or simply switch to irresponsibly owning other breeds.   Meanwhile, BSL adversely affects responsible owners who were already abiding by the law.  

Yet still,  Yakima’s Code Administration Manager Joe Caruso, who said — “Year after year, we’re having people bitten by pit bulls . . . It’s not numbers that we’re making up.” —   thinks Yakima’s BSL is working?   So, Mr. Caruso believes that Yakima’s pit bull ban is working even though people are being attacked by so-called pit bulls year after year in a city in which they’ve been banned for over 20 years?   This, to Mr. Caruso, is efficacy???  

Mr. Caruso added,

“From our experiences, what we’re seeing of pitbulls, a lot of pitbulls are being hidden in the City of Yakima” . . .   Caruso adds most people who own a Pit Bull aren’t strangers to the crimiinal justice system.

Again, Mr. Caruso is acknowledging that Yakima’s pit bull ban isn’t working at all.   But notice the oft-heard reference to pit bull owners being predominantly criminals — drug dealers, gang bangers, dog fighters.   You know, “those people” in “those neighborhoods”?   So you can see, there’s potentially some racism going on here as well, and of course it’s not unheard of for law enforcement to use BSL as a means to racially profile.  

Still, if Yakima has a crime problem, how in the world will it be solved by a pit bull ban?   Winnipeg, Manitoba thought the same thing when they passed BSL in the early nineties to curb their crack dealer problem.   All that ended   up happening was that their dog bite incidences actually increased.  

Pit bull advocates further argued against Yakima’s pit bull ban by noting the pit bull ban’s exorbitant costs.   But Mr. Caruso shrugged off such criticisms by adding,

“To say the pit bull ban is using an extensive amount of money, that is just one factor of our animal control program.”

And wouldn’t those funds allocated to try to enforce Yakima’s ineffective pit bull ban be better spent on policing all dogs instead of myopically focusing on what Yakima defines as a pit bull?  

No Yakima, it’s not that complicated.   Actually, it’s surprisingly simple.   You already know what doesn’t work: your pit bull ban.   And through even a cursory Internet search you can see what does keep communities safer: a well-enforced dangerous dog (owner) law.   You just have to have the courage to stand up and do the right thing.  

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