Council keeps BSL in place for pit bulls

·4 min read

Jun. 22—OTTUMWA — Some residents acknowledged the efforts of Ottumwa City Council members, others were "seriously disappointed."

In the end, they came away without the one thing they wanted — change.

The council voted 4-1 Tuesday to approve the first reading of the revised animals ordinance to the city's code, which includes leaving the pit bull terrier as a dangerous animal. Council member Cara Galloway was the lone dissenting vote.

It is unlikely anything material will change for the second and third readings, and the ordinance will be adopted in July.

"I first want to applaud our council for considering stronger protections for animal welfare, and cracking down on irresponsible ownership and inhumane dangerous practices," professional dog trainer Melissa Childs told the council. "But, I want to point out these new regulations are going to require time and resources to enforce a key part of this ordinance that is just simply unenforceable."

The ordinance is the final product of an eight-month long process that started when the Coalition to End Ottumwa's Pit Bull Ban approached the council last November asking to lift the breed-specific language surrounding the dog. Public comment was frequent, emotions were charged at times and revisions were made.

In the end, the ordinance "will never be perfect because people that were not perfect wrote it," council member Marc Roe said in defending his vote to keep the ban in place.

"It will always be an imperfect document that needs revision from time to time, and that's the beauty of government. We can come back, see that something is not working and adjust as necessary," he said.

The ordinance redefines "pit bull terrier" based on three different dog breeds carrying characteristics associated with the American Kennel Club and United Kennel Club. It also establishes simple misdemeanors for violations, and creates new language for guidelines regarding tethering.

While some residents cited the improvement, Shannon Murphy, one of the spokepersons for the coalition, was not impressed.

"I understand your concerns, but I personally feel like the group of us has tried to address every pinpoint issues that you would have for repealing this ban," she said. "And you're not meeting us even halfway. I always said BSL is bull— language. Let's make it fair. I'm seriously disappointed with the revision that's been presented."

Galloway wanted changes made to the ordinance that was presented to the council in May, and the item was tabled until those revisions could be made. She also expressed some interest in moving the dog into a new "high risk" category, which would have lifted the ban in exchange for strict guidelines for owners to follow.

"I do think we need to start being forward-thinking on this issue. We need to start working with people who own pit bulls or want to own pit bulls," Galloway said. "We can't stop the conversation here. It needs to continue. This is still an emotional issue, but we need to figure out how to have pit bulls in Ottumwa, because they're already here."

Because the dog is already illegally in the city, Roe said he had no reason to believe dog owners would start obeying a law if changes were made.

"We're not doing ourselves any favors right now by changing the rules and allowing people who have already said, 'We will not obey the law.' We put conditions in place that will allow people to openly not obey the law, and that makes absolutely no sense," he said. "Every council I have sat on has been publicly chastised for making laws that nobody can enforce and nobody will follow.

"Does the city want us to just step back and say, 'We're not going to make rules that are enforceable?' If that's the case, what do we need a city council for to begin with?" Roe added. "If this rule gets changed, and a pit bull bites and kills a baby, kills an elderly person, it isn't the people who fought for this change that's going to be blamed for that. It's us that gets the blame for that, and I want to be able to sleep at night."

Childs said the ordinance comes down to enforcement.

"I'm not asking you to ignore the fact that pit bulls are powerful dogs," she said. "I'm proposing you hold on to a new and enforceable standard of responsible dog ownership instead of perpetuating a lawn that cannot be consistently enforced. Use our city resources wisely and hold all dog owners responsible for dog care and behavior."

In other business:

—Mayor Rick Johnson presented Collins Clingman with a framed certificate for participating in the Special Olympics in Florida earlier this month. Clingman won gold and bronze medals at the event, and has been competing in the Special Olympics since he was 8.

—The council voted to increase by 5 percentage points the portion of the city's hotel/motel tax revenue to Meet Ottumwa. The organization will now earn 40% of the revenue as a result of doing most of the marketing for itself as well as the Bridge View Center and The Beach Ottumwa. All three receive hotel/motel tax revenue.

— Chad Drury can be reached at cdrury@ottumwacourier.com, and on Twitter @ChadDrury