The City Council for Yakima, Washington has agreed to reconsider the city’s year old pit bull ban. Yakima is one of the largest cities in Eastern Washington; it is in the heart of the state’s wine country. But what tourists and even its own citizens may not realize is that hundreds of thousands of tourist and tax dollars over 26 years have been spent trying to keep pit bull dogs out of the city.
The ordinance banning pit bulls actually targets any dog “which contains as an element of its breeding the breed of American pit bull terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, American bulldog or American Staffordshire terrier so as to be identifiable as partially of [one of those]…breed[s]”. Yakima Code 6.18.010. That means a dog is banned if an animal control officer thinks he has some features of a pit bull. The ordinance allows an owner a one time 48 hour period to remove the dog from Yakima if animal control issues a notice that the dog is a pit bull kept in the city in violation of the law. Yakima Code ch. 68.
But people cannot look at a dog and determine his or her breed. Recently, in Denver Dr. Victoria Voith did a little test on animal shelter directors, dog trainers and others who work with dogs.
They were asked to view 20 dogs on a videotape and identify each one by breed including whether the dog was a purebred or a mix. The professionals were surprised by how few dogs they identified correctly by breed. Voith believes as many as 75% of the pit bull identifications made by shelter workers, animal control or law enforcement are wrong. She is the author of Shelter Medicine: A Comparison of Visual and DNA Identifications of BREEDS of Dogs. As DNA testing becomes more reliable, it is proving that many of the dogs identified as pit bull are actually a mix of dozens of breeds with little or none of the DNA of pit bull type dogs.
That means a lot of dogs condemned by breed bans are not even “pit bull” breeds.
A number of states actually prohibit breed discrimination.
There is not one major animal or health organization including the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control, among many others, that supports breed discrimination.
Breed discriminatory legislation does not work to make communities safe. Study after study has proven this. Dogs don’t bite because of breed or appearance; they bite out of fear that could have been the result of poor socialization, neglect, abuse, tethering or confinement or isolation. In other words, it is the owner or caretaker’s negligent or criminal actions that are responsible, not the dog’s breed or appearance.
Breed discrimination penalizes responsible dog owners and means the death of dogs that are not in any way dangerous. The Department of Justice has rejected breed discrimination in determining whether a dog is a service animal, noting “the breed of a dog does not determine its propensity for aggression and that aggressive and non-aggressive dogs exist in all breeds.”
Studies have shown that breed discrimination in effect for decades in other places such as Denver and Miami-Dade County have not worked to keep communities safe. Pit bull bans have only meant the deaths of thousands of innocent pets. In Prince George’s County, Maryland, the cost to enforce a pit bull ban from 2001 to 2002 was at least $560,000. Of the 900 pit bulls euthanized during that time, animal control reported that 720 were nice family pets.
Breed discrimination is a very costly negative for a community and state and will create a climate where dogs are viewed as enemies rather than family members requiring proper care, management and love. In Yakima the 4 animal control officers have been required to respond to 128 reports of pit bulls just in 2013 thus far. 37 of the dogs were impounded just because an animal control officer thought they looked to some extent like a pit bull. It makes no sense for a city to spend taxpayer dollars investigating whether a dog may look like a pit bull and then impounding him if he does.
Just last year in 2012 Ohio repealed a long standing law discriminating against pit bull dogs. The state instead adopted laws recognizing that it is the criminal or negligent acts of the owner/caretaker that are responsible for a dog’s behavior. The state recognized that the breed or appearance of a dog is not a predictor of aggression.
It is time for Yakima to do the same. If you live in Yakima or can provide information to help persuade the city council and mayor to support a repeal of the pit bull ban, contact city council members and the mayor. Just click on their names at the link for email addresses or call (509) 575-6050.