Tuesday, September 02, 2014

City cages pit bull debate ... for now

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 2/10/2014

Some people might think that with a Danish surname Blake Jorgensen would be a good skier, he said, because Danes are known for their skiing prowess.

But the city commissioner assured the audience at Wednesday night’s city meeting that skiing was not among his talents.

Some people might think that with a Danish surname Blake Jorgensen would be a good skier, he said, because Danes are known for their skiing prowess.

But the city commissioner assured the audience at Wednesday night’s city meeting that skiing was not among his talents.

Just as Americans have moved past judging people by their lineage, Jorgensen said, it was time to take a look at whether the city should have an ordinance banning pit bulls, based solely on their breed.

“I know I’m probably going to be in the minority speaking tonight, but I think there is probably a solution that could be figured out as far a doing a dangerous dog ordinance as opposed to the banned-breed ordinance that we have,” Jorgensen said. “I know there are other communities that have developed that in the past several years.”

Ottawa city commissioners were weighing in on the breed-specific ordinance Wednesday night, offering their reactions to a Jan. 8 public forum on the matter. For now, the ban will remain in place.

Jason Berve, Ottawa, has been trying for months to get the city commission to lift the breed-specific legislation, adopted by the city in 1987. The commission chambers were filled with his supporters for the Jan. 8 forum scheduled by the commission to hear residents’ opinions about the breed-specific legislation, both those for and against the ordinance. Commissioners also heard from several people who were trained professionals in working with dogs. The city currently has a vicious dog ordinance and a breed-specific ordinance that bans pit bulls.

Berve said the current pit bull ordinance — banning pit bull breeds American Staffordshire Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and Bull Terrier, as well as mixes of those breeds — does nothing to protect residents from the real issue: negligent owners.

Jorgensen said proponents and opponents of lifting the breed-specific ordinance made good points at the public forum.

“We heard several experts speak, but particularly a veterinarian [Dr. Laura Erwin, Ottawa] trained in genetics who indicated breeds are no more prone to violence than any other breeds,” Jorgensen said. “I’m not convinced pit bulls are any more vicious than any other breed of dogs. Their environment has a lot to do with that as well.”

Linda Reed, city commissioner, said she would be open to discussing Jorgensen’s proposal for a dangerous dog ordinance, but she said the city would have to take a hard look at the feasibility of adopting such an ordinance because she thought it would require having a full-time animal control officer at the Ottawa Police Department to enforce it. The officer currently handling the animal control duties also performs other duties for the police department, she pointed out, and is not solely focused on animal control.

Reed, and other commissioners, said they have studied the pit bull issue perhaps more than any other topic in recent memory and said they appreciated the way proponents of the issue had gone about trying to change the ordinance “in the right way” by bringing it before the commission. Still, Reed had reservations about making a change, she said.

“I feel like sometimes we are putting an animal ahead of a human, and I believe it’s our responsibility to protect our citizens,” Reed said. “At this point, I am not ready to lift that particular ban [on pit bulls].”

Mike Skidmore, city commissioner, is in favor of being proactive rather than reactive, he said.

“The only way to be proactive is to keep the ban in place,” Skidmore said. “Reactive would be after a dog had bit somebody, and I just think with this particular breed and the strength and tenacity of the attack, it makes it much more of a damaging injury than a small dog ... at this point, I’m in favor of leaving the ban in place.”

For Shawn Dickinson, city commissioner, it came down to deciding which residents would be more negatively effected — residents who would live in neighborhoods where pit pulls could reside if the ban was lifted, or owners who could not have their pit bulls inside the city limits if the ban were kept, he said.

“Public safety comes before anything,” Dickinson said. “I don’t think this conversation is over ... but I think it’s better to leave the breed-specific ban in place while we look at this further.”

Jorgensen said safety was important to him as well, but he thought a dangerous dog ordinance would be able to provide safety to the public as well as allow breeds to be in the community until they are proven to be dangerous by their behavior or actions.

Sara Caylor, Ottawa mayor, said she was willing to work to find consensus on the issue.

“I am not willing to make a change, but I’m not willing to close the door either,” she said.

The commission took no action on the issue Wednesday night, effectively leaving the breed-specific ban in place for the time being.

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