U.S. communities increasingly ditching pit bull bans – Aamer Madhani for USA Today November 18, 2014

Three decades after officials in more than 700 cities throughout the country began passing bans and other restrictions to keep pit bulls out of their communities, state and local governments are increasingly reconsidering their approach to what not so long ago was America’s most vilified pet.Since June, at least nine communities in the Midwest have overturned pit bull bans that were on the books. Last week, Hallsville, Mo., became the latest to lift its ban after a family successfully appealed to the City Council for a change in law when it learned the family dog was a pit bull mix.

Over the past two years, more than 100 municipalities across the USA have overturned bans and other restrictions that target dogs in the pit bull family, the generic term commonly used to describe the American pit bull terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier and many mixed-breed dogs with square-shaped heads and bulky builds.

More communities could soon follow suit.

The unified government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., is considering lifting a pit bull ban that has been on the books for nearly a quarter-century, as part of a comprehensive overhaul of its animal control policies.

The push in Kansas City (pop. 148,000) comes as Roeland Park, Kan. (pop. 6,800) recently began reviewing its ban on pit bulls. The nearby community of Bonner Springs announced this year that it was lifting its ban.

Advocates argue the bans have been ineffective in reducing dog bites and led to millions of dogs being euthanized. They say too often animal control officials, law enforcement and the media misidentify offending dogs as pit bulls.

“The only ones that are being affected by these bans are responsible dog owners,” said Janelle Holland, a pit bull owner who was forced to leave Roeland Park more than a decade ago after learning she was violating the ban.

There’s been action on the statewide level as well.

This year, South Dakota and Utah joined 17 other states in passing laws to prevent local governments passing “breed-specific legislation,” or BSL, making it illegal for cities to pass bans targeting pit bulls or any other breed. (The South Dakota law went into effect in July, and Utah’s prohibition on pit bull bans will be law on New Year’s Day.)

Breed-specific legislation began spreading in communities throughout the country in the mid-1980s after a surge in fatal dog bitings, including a disproportionate number of incidents initially attributed to pit bull-type dogs.

The pit bull was popular in illegal dogfighting rings, and the breed developed a reputation as a favorite accessory of drug dealers and gangsters.

This month, residents in the Denver suburb of Aurora, Colo., voted by a 2-to-1 ratio in a referendum to keep their pit bull ban on the books. The Aurora vote follows a vote in 2012 in Miami-Dade County, where voters opted to keep the ban by a similarly wide ratio.

Jeff Borchardt, an East Troy, Wis.-man whose 14-month-old son, Daxton, was fatally mauled last year by two pit bulls while being cared for by a babysitter, says government leaders should look to the Aurora and Miami examples before overturning bans.

“There’s this pro-pit-bull movement that tries to paint these dogs as nanny dogs and sweet, lovely and kind,” Borchardt said. “It’s disgusting, it’s dangerous, and it’s irresponsible.”

Some groups, including the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Humane Society and the American Bar Association, have suggested governments would be better off focusing attention on problem animals in a community rather than banning any particular breed of dog.

The push to end pit bull bans got a boost last year, when the Obama administration — in response to opponents of such laws petitioning the White House — said it was opposed to breed-specific legislation.

Stakeholders on opposite sides of the issue cast aspersions about the evidence the others use to back their arguments. A lack of recent government or third-party data on pit bull bites further muddies the national conversation.

The National Canine Research Council, which opposes breed-specific legislation, points to a 2013 study it partly funded that suggests a dog’s environment has more to do than its breed with the likelihood of a dog making a deadly attack.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, of 256 dog bite-related fatalities from 2000-2009 found co-occurring factors in more than 80% of the deadly incidents, such as the absence of an able-bodied person to stop the attack, a history of abuse or neglect of the dog and the failure by owners to neuter the dogs.

“It’s becoming more and more obvious that breed-specific legislation doesn’t improve public safety,” says Janis Bradley, director of communication for the NCRC. “Its purpose is to reduce injuries from dog bites, but there is no municipality or state where it’s enacted where they’ve been able to show that it’s accomplished this.”

The Center for Disease Control, which opposes BSL, notes that fatal attacks represent a tiny fraction of about 4.7 million dog bites Americans suffer annually and that it’s difficult to accurately calculate bite rates for specific breeds.

DogsBite.org, a group that advocates in favor of BSL, points to its own research, culled from news reports of dog-bite-related fatalities, that shows 74% of incidents from 2005 to 2013 involved a pit bull or Rottweiler.

Colleen Lynn, founder of DogsBite.org, dismisses the suggestion from the CDC and others that BSL doesn’t work.

“It’s not designed to reduce all dog bites,” said Lynn, who said pit bulls are an inherently aggressive animal. “It’s breed-specific and meant to reduce pit bull maulings and fatalities.”

Even as dozens of American communities abandon BSL, some ponder its merits.

This year, Riverside, Ala., a community about 40 miles outside of Birmingham, weighed enacting a pit bull ban after a 5-year-old boy was fatally mauled by neighbor’s pit bull. City officials opted against it.

Mayor Rusty Jessup said he would prefer not to have any pit bulls in his community of 3,000. Jessup said he didn’t think his community could enforce such a ban or even positively determine the breeds of dogs.

“We were just afraid that we were going to get situations where we’re trying to enforce this and people are saying, ‘That dog’s not a pit bull, it’s a boxer,'” Jessup said. ” And doggone it, who are we going to have to make that determination?”