The city of Clay recently passed an ordinance which bans “vicious” or “dangerous” dogs, and specifically includes language banning any and all pit bull breeds, whether a particular pit bull dog is vicious/dangerous or not. Upon reviewing the ordinance, which you can read here, several issues jump out.
First and foremost is the outright banning of pit bulls dogs, without regard for the nature of a particular dog. There are two schools of thought on the safety of pit bulls. Some believe that pit bulls have an innate, natural tendency to be vicious. Certainly, news reports would lead one to believe that a high percentage of dog attacks involve pit bulls. Others believe that any dog can be made to be vicious if treated improperly, and any dog, including pit bulls, can be made to be well-behaved if treated with love and proper training. There are certainly countless pit bulls that have never exhibited improper, unprovoked aggression.
Another problem with the ordinance is the manner in which dogs falling under the classification of “violent” or “dangerous” must be kept. The ordinance incorporates a “grandfather” clause which, to some extent, exempts currently present pit bulls or “dangerous” dogs from the ban. However, these dogs must be registered with the city, and are subject to strict requirements. For instance, these dogs must be either kept indoors or must be held in pens or structures outside. A regular fence will not do. The ordinance specifically requires the structure to have a roof or other secure top, and either a secure bottom or sides that extend at least two feet into the ground. The door must lock with either a key or combination lock. The owner must place a sign on the property stating “Beware of Dog.” The city must be provided with color photographs of the dog and any puppies born of such a dog must be removed from the city, within six weeks of birth. Remember, these are not requirements for a dog that has bitten or attacked someone. These are requirements for any pit bull.
Most people would agree that keeping residents of Clay safe from a dangerous dog is extremely important. It’s an issue that needs to be addressed, and laws aimed at effectively accomplishing this should be enacted. Most cities have “leash law” ordinances which require dogs to be on leashes when not secured inside a house or fence. These are generally good laws, wisely aimed at protecting the citizens from wandering dogs. Opponents of this particular ordinance, as adopted by Clay, argue that it fails to accomplish this same interest as narrowly as it could.
Clay city attorney Alan Summers has presented some alternatives, the most important of which is to remove the breed-specific language from the ordinance. Such a change would effectively limit the ban to “dangerous” or “vicious” dogs only, with some guidance on establishing whether a particular dog fits the bill.