Should Independence repeal its nearly two-decade-old ban on pit bulls? That is a question worthy of consideration. Most municipalities in the metropolitan area have rescinded similar dog policies.
In Independence, pit bull terriers and other dogs that merely resemble them are prohibited.
Wait, what? Yes, in Independence, any canine “displaying the majority of physical traits” of a breed commonly referred to as a pit bull — a square head, a bulky body — is outlawed, no matter the dog’s DNA.
In recent years, Overland Park, Roeland Park, Wyandotte County, Liberty and other area cities have repealed breed-specific dog legislation.
Could Independence be next?
The Kansas City suburb already has laws on the books regulating dangerous dogs. Now, a group of concerned city residents and animal lovers want the pit bull ban eliminated.
On Friday, the Independence city clerk approved a petition form to repeal the city’s pit bull ban ordinance. The grassroots, independent group has 30 days to gather 3,189 signatures. If successful, the issue could be placed on the next available ballot — or the City Council could enact the change on its own, according to Glenda Bailey, a spokesperson for the group.
The anti-ban group has the backing of the Humane Society and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Bailey said.
The ban has been in place in Independence since 2006, when a resident was mauled by pit bulls. The tragic event did not occur because pit bulls are inherently vicious. While they are physically strong, the dogs are no more dangerous than any other breed that can also be unethically trained to attack, proponents of the repeal contend. Rather, an irresponsible dog owner led to the attack. Bites from pit bulls are no more prevalent than from other breeds, according to the Kansas City Pet Project.
After the 2006 attack, the Independence City Council was presented with a petition requesting the ban, and acted. Why sit idle now, in a different era?
Independence Mayor Rory Rowland believes the issue should be settled at the ballot box, he said at a recent council meeting. So why should residents have to go through the citizen initiative petition process?
The more signatures collected, the more voices on both sides of the issues can be heard, city officials told us. Then, and only then, can the City Council act in good faith.
The measured approach is a good one. But the city must do more in the interim to protect pet owners such as Charles Ray of Independence.
Ray is in danger of losing his two dogs that are mixed with Labrador and boxer DNA, he said in a Facebook post last month. He was given 10 days to remove the animals from his home. Ray is in a holding pattern for now, but his family could lose their pets or be forced to move, according to Bailey. Attempts to reach Ray for comment were unsuccessful.
Here’s an idea Independence officials should consider: Place a moratorium on sending letters to residents like Ray threatening to remove dogs that violate the current ban. Until the council or voters act, the city should spare families the agony of giving up their pets.
The eastern Jackson County animal shelter is full to capacity, Bailey said. Non-pit bull breeds are being placed in a no-kill shelter with very little chance of being adopted.
In 2006, a ban seemed like the right thing to do. But we have come to learn breed-specific ordinances do little to protect people and other animals from dog attacks.
Independence leaders have to know the ban only creates trouble for responsible pet owners and increased cost for the city. Housing pit bulls and others like them at the local animal shelter is a burden on city finances and taxpayers, proponents contend.
The right thing for Independence officials to do is focus more broadly on the existing dangerous dogs ordinance, and simply eliminate breed-specific language from the city’s codes.
The people have spoken. Will Independence act?