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Bill would prohibit pit bull bans in Iowa cities

DES MOINES — Cities and counties could not have ordinances banning certain breeds of dogs, like pit bulls, under legislation being considered in the Iowa Senate.

Colin Grace of the Animal Rescue League of Iowa said aggressive dogs that bite are typically owned by someone who improperly trained or restrained the dog.

“Where you want to focus your energy is not on breeds of dogs, but on irresponsible owners,” he said during a Senate subcommittee hearing on the bill. “You can go through all the rigmarole of removing a dangerous animal from an irresponsible owner and by 5 p.m. that day they can go on Craig’s List and find a new dog and start the process all over again. You know when you focus on breed as well, you also punish responsible owners of that breed.”

The Iowa Veterinary Medical Association supports the bill, too. Randy Wheeler, the association’s executive director, said breed-specific bans give the public a false sense of security.

“I’m a veterinarian of 44 years. I’ve dealt with many different breeds as well as many different dogs,” he said. “…It’s a behavior of that specific dog and not the specific breed.”

Christopher Collins is a police officer who lobbied to get rid of a pit bull ban in Anamosa. He said breed-specific bans are often “based on prejudice” against the poor and racial minorities.

“When I was going through overturning the ban in Anamosa, frequently they kept referring to ‘those people,’” he said.

A non-profit called Stray Dog Policy, Inc. was represented at the hearing by lobbyist Emily Piper.

“This bill, at its heart, has nothing to do with dogs,” Piper said. “What it does have to do with is whether or not local government can deny its citizens the right to own something that is otherwise perfectly legal.”

The bill does have opposition.

“Any piece of legislation which forces a city councilor or a mayor or a city clerk…to tell their constituents that, ‘I can’t help you because the state won’t let me,’ is of great concern to the League,” said Daniel Stalder, a lobbyist for the Iowa League of Cities.

Council Bluffs Mayor Matt Walsh voted against his city’s ban on pit bulls, but now supports it.

“Unfortunately ‘bully dogs’ attract the wrong type of owner…that want a dog that will send a statement that they are a tough guy with a tough dog,” Walsh said. “…I think our community’s safer by having the ban.”

An initial public hearing on the bill was held Monday, but senators working on the bill say they want more input. Illinois, South Dakota and 20 other states have passed laws banning local ordinances that prohibit citizens from owning certain breeds of dogs.

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