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Des Moines may remove breeds from vicious dog law – DesMoinesRegister.com

Katherine Klingseis, kklingseis@dmreg.com 11:50 p.m. CDT August 31, 2014

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dog teeth(Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto )

A push is being mounted in Des Moines to remove the names of specific dog breeds in the city's animal ordinance, and instead focus on a canine's behavior when considering whether a dog is vicious.

If Des Moines adopts new wording in its animal ordinance, the city would join others across the country and in Iowa that have either revamped their laws or are in the process of doing so. Groups like the Animal Rescue League of Iowa and American Bar Association support the changes.

Altoona, for instance, has approved the first reading of an ordinance that removes references of American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers and pit bull terriers in its definitions of vicious dogs.

Eliminating the breed-specific language and tweaking other parts of the code should eliminate some confusion on what is classified as a vicious dog, Altoona Police Chief Jody Matherly said.

Waterloo has made similar changes in its animal ordinance.

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In Des Moines, a seven-person task force is charged with making recommendations to the City Council on amendments to an animal ordinance related to vicious dogs. The council appointed the task force after Christine Pardee of Des Moines approached the council in June.

Pardee is pushing for the adoption of breed-neutral language in the city code, increased penalties and fines for neglectful and abusive dog owners, adoption of a reckless owner provision to the city code, and expansion of the scope of animal control's authority to respond to incidents.

Pardee went before the council after her two miniature schnauzers were attacked by two dogs — one last fall and another this spring — when they were out for walks, she said. One of the attackers was a terrier and the other was a corgi, Pardee said.

"Despite my dogs becoming injured from two attacks in my neighborhood, in no way do I believe my neighborhood is an unsafe place for people and their dogs to walk," Pardee said. "We were just unlucky, so I've chosen to refocus my anger and grief for their suffering and try to do something positive for the benefit of all dogs and their owners in Des Moines."

Pardee sought help from the Animal Rescue League of Iowa after her dogs were bitten.

During these discussions, Pardee discovered how the Des Moines municipal code defines what kinds of canines are "vicious dogs."

While the city code takes into account a dog's behavior — such as whether it has attacked or bitten anyone — when determining what dog is "vicious," it also defines pit bulls, American Staffordshire terriers and Staffordshire terriers as vicious.

Pardee learned several organizations, including the ARL of Iowa, advocate for breed-neutral language in animal ordinances.

"We don't like the fact a certain breed is singled out," said Josh Colvin, the animal control services manager for Des Moines. "We try to look at the actions of the dog as opposed to it being a pit bull or a terrier."

Animal Rescue League of Iowa data show that 414 dog biting incidents were reported to the Animal Care and Control Center in 2013.

Of the breeds listed, pit bulls were involved in the most biting incidents, but several dogs — including Chihuahuas, beagles, spaniels and Labrador retrievers — also were involved in several biting incidents in 2013.

The American Humane Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Obama administration have also announced they are against breed-specific legislation.

The American Bar Association approved a resolution in 2012 that urged governmental bodies and agencies to adopt breed-neutral dangerous dog and reckless owner laws and repeal "breed discriminatory or breed specific provisions."

The resolution stated the change would "ensure due process protections for owners, encourage responsible pet ownership and focus on the behavior of both dog owners and dogs."

Pardee said she wants the city of Des Moines to adopt breed-neutral language so that the city code can "make it more possible legally to focus on maybe it's not just a pit bull … but there are other dogs who may not have been raised properly or have behavior issues that cause these attacks."

In addition to adopting breed-neutral language, Pardee said she advocates for the introduction of a reckless owner provision that addresses owners whose dogs have been involved in multiple biting incidents.

During the task force's first two meetings, its members agreed that dogs that have been cited for biting should have microchips placed in them that inform officials who owns the canines, Pardee said.

Pardee said some owners have given their friends dogs that have been cited, and then have gotten new dogs. Having microchips with a dog owner's information will help officials determine which owners are habitual offenders.

The task force will meet again Sept. 9, and Pardee said she expects the recommendations will be completed in the next 30 days.

"This situation has energized me to work toward making Des Moines the No. 1 best city in the nation for dogs and citizens," Pardee said. "The number of dog attacks absolutely has to be reduced."

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