Pit bulls could be on their way back into legal Kansas City, Kansas, status, as an ordinance repealing the pit bull ban moved forward Monday night at a Unified Government committee meeting.
It’s not time to bring the pit bulls out of hiding yet, as the repeal still has to be passed by the Unified Government Commission to take effect. The issue could reach the full commission on May 30, according to an agenda note.
More than 20 persons attended the UG Public Works and Safety Committee meeting Monday night to express their support of a repeal of the ban. Four persons in favor of the repeal spoke, while no opponents of the repeal spoke at the meeting. Commissioner Angela Markley mentioned the commissioners had been receiving some emails opposed to the repeal.
The repeal effort, sponsored by Commissioners Jane Philbrook and Melissa Bynum, passed unanimously 6-0 at the committee level. Commissioner Harold Johnson, who was not on the commission when the issue last came up in 2014, voted in favor of the repeal, along with the other committee members.
Bynum said the pit bull ban is not needed any more, since in 2014 the commission passed a dangerous dog ordinance that allows animal control officers to pick up any dangerous dog regardless of breed. There are specific guidelines for picking up dangerous dogs, based on the dog’s behavior.
Philbrook said a community survey in 2016 showed that more than 80 percent of the residents who responded wanted the pit bull ban repealed.
Twenty-four percent of animal control’s budget is spent on breed-specific services, totaling $246,000, Philbrook said. Commissioners said that money could be better spent elsewhere, such as responding to actual events involving dogs that exhibited dangerous behavior.
Philbrook said residents whose dogs have been picked up sometimes have spent thousands of dollars in court to prove that the dogs were not pit bulls. Some other residents have decided not to pick up their pit bulls from the shelter, and they take up space that might be better used for other purposes, according to animal services staff.
“They have to come out to repeated calls because an animal has been killing cats, or whatever that animal has been doing, but we don’t have the availability to send our other officers out in animal services to deal with it,” Philbrook said. “We are strapped for money, so spending a quarter of our money just on a breed-specific dog is really a waste of money. We need to be more effective in how we do it.”
Jennifer Stewart of animal services said the average length of stay in the shelter for a pit bull is 71 days, while the average length of stay for a non-pit bull is 52 days. The staff is doing its best to find them homes but they are limited to where they can send them to have the dog adopted, she said. Ending the pit bull ban may mean that they can have space to pick up more animals.
For 2018 the pit bull count at the shelter was about 19 percent, and today it’s 38 percent, Stewart said. She also said they had lost a grant for $30,000 to $50,000 for a coordinator because it will not be given to cities with breed-specific laws.
Attorney Jeff Conway said if the pit bull ordinance is repealed, the fines and penalties would remain in place for dangerous and vicious animals. The fines start at $300 and could go to a maximum $1,000, with imprisonment up to 90 days for dangerous and vicious animals.
The dogs that are banned in the current ordinance include the Staffordshire bull terrier, the American pit bull terrier and the American Staffordshire terrier.
Kate Fields, president and CEO of the Humane Society of Greater Kansas City, said the Humane Society takes the hurt or abused animals from the animal shelter, heals them and then tries to find homes for them. The Humane Society provides the veterinary services for the animal shelter. She said the Humane Society shelter, a separate shelter from animal control, has roughly 40 percent pit bulls.
“We’re not a big shelter. Part of the problem that we find is when we take the animals are hurt, a lot of them that come in are pit bull fixes, we fix them and then we have to try to find homes outside our community,” she said.
The Ray of Hope program at the Humane Society takes dogs to Olathe to try to find new homes for them, she said. The dogs are under stress as they are driven back and forth, and also when they are in the kennel, she said. That makes them more susceptible to diseases, she added.
She said she has to raise money to help take care of the pit bulls.
“We were the first no-kill shelter in the Kansas City area,” Fields said. “We’re proud to be that way, and we’re proud with what animal services has done to be close to becoming a no-kill shelter. That’s the way it should be. This is an outdated and archaic law.”
Another resident told the committee that some residents are reporting neighbors’ dogs as pit bulls when they really are not. This wastes the time of the animal control staff, she noted.
A third resident, Angie Reitemeier, said pit bull dogs are dogs as any other and should be treated as individuals. It’s impossible to predict how a dog will act based on its looks and not its behavior, she said.
“It does not make sense for the UG to have both ordinances,” she said. “The dangerous dog ordinance is much easier to enforce, while the breed ban is expensive and does not work. Labeling a dog by its looks is subjective and many dogs are misidentified as pit bulls when they are not.”
It creates hardships for owners, with legal bills for those who often can’t afford it, and sometimes results in people abandoning their dogs at the shelter, she said.
Markley said she was receiving emails about pit bull attacks in Kansas City, Missouri, where there is a pit bull ban in place. She said it shows the attacks still happen, even though there is a ban. She said the UG is trying to create an environment where people can own a pit bull and be punished for the right reasons if the dog is misbehaving.
Commissioner Mike Kane said he never wanted the pit bull ban in the first place, and he cited an experience his family had with pit bulls.
“Why we singled this one breed out – is wrong,” Kane said. “It’s not the dog, it’s the people who raised the dog.”
Philbrook said the reason this issue has been brought back up is money. The UG is wasting money and it needs money for this department, she said. The animal services department is understaffed, she said, and could use the funds to provide more services. She also said many volunteers have helped the community, including KCK Pet Help, with $239,000 in services provided.