DES MOINES, Iowa — Earlier this week leaders in Sioux City approved the first reading of an ordinance that would lift the city’s ban on pit bulls. That ban states that any dog that has more than 50-percent pitbull DNA cannot live within city limits.
The decision to reconsider the ban came after regulations across the country are ditching restrictions on specific dog breeds and turning to “breed-neutral” regulations, but Des Moines has yet to follow suit.
You can have a pit bull or Staffordshire terrier breed of dog in the city limits of Des Moines, but you’ll have to follow an extra set of rules and regulations.
Currently, the city has breed-specific legislation (BSL) that classifies these breeds of dogs, or even any dog that has the “appearance and characteristics” of being predominantly like one as high risk. This puts them in the same category as dogs who have a history of biting or attacking humans or other domestic animals.
Owners must follow rules on leash lengths and kennels and also prove they have insurance over $100,000. They also have age restrictions saying only those 18 years or older can handle a leash with a high risk dog.
The Animal Rescue League (ARL) of Iowa says all these rules and vague description of what qualifies as a high risk dog makes things confusing for those wanting to adopt or even current owners who want to move to Des Moines.
“There is a wide variety of thoughts that [BSL] is going to eliminate or reduce the number of dog bites and it really hasn’t,” Tom Colvin, Chief Executive Officer for ARL Iowa said. “Quite frankly, all it does is take limited resources for animal control and things of that nature that really go to protecting the citizens and diverts it into focus on what a dog looks like.”
Colvin said it’s also virtually impossible to tell if a dog is 51 percent pit bull or not. According to the ARL Iowa website, dogs visually identified as pit bulls are the fifth most popular family dog in Iowa, and a majority of these families are unfairly targeted through this BSL.
“We kind of look at breed-specific ordinances and languages as a knee jerk reaction,” Colvin said. “This doesn’t mean the ARL is behind lacks ordinances that don’t address the safety of its citizens. By having these discussions about removing breed restricted language allows there to be bigger conversations on how they can bolster other parts of the ordinance that are going to go directly to people’s safety.”
Josh Mandelbaum with the Des Moines city council said he can’t speak for the city council as a whole, but he would be willing to discuss changing the ordinances.
“I would support exploring a breed-neutral ordinance for Des Moines,” Mandelbaum said. “A breed-neutral ordinance would be in line with national trends and best practices. I believe that we should be concerned with the specific animal’s behavior and not focused on just the breed.”