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Following Other Cities, Sioux City Looks To Throw Out Pit Bull Ban

Four of the five Sioux City council members voted Monday to scrap the 11-year-old ban on pit bulls.

Sioux City has taken the first step towards repealing an ordinance banning pit bulls and pit bull mixes in the city. City staff recommend repealing the 11-year-old ban as animal regulations across the country ditch restrictions on specific breeds of dogs and turn to more "breed neutral" regulations.
Four of the five city council members voted Monday to scrap the ban. Councilman Pete Groetken, the lone “no” vote, said that as a former police officer, he has a responsibility to be concerned about peoples’ safety.

“I’ll be heartbroken if the ban goes away and something serious happens in a week,” Groetken said.

Sioux City staff brought the repeal of the pit bull ban to the council, pointing out that animal control regulations are becoming more neutral – focusing on all dogs. Staff say a repeal would also help make the city more compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Fair Housing Act for people who have pit bulls as service animals.

The city also seeks to revise parts of its code on vicious animals.

People on both sides of the pit bull ban had the opportunity to comment on the proposed repeal and pitch their thoughts to the city. Jim Rixner was on the council when the ban was unanimously passed. He wants to keep it, and said many pit bulls are vicious.

“One of the things about pit bulls that led to my conviction that they had to be banned in this city is that they have a propensity to attack children, as well as adults, as well as other animals,” Rixner said.

“I have grandchildren,” Rixner said. “I don’t want a pit bull ripping my grandchildren's face apart.”

Rixner said the city’s ordinance mandating vicious animals be seized and impounded is reactive, and only goes into effect after a person is attacked, he said. He said he stands by the council’s decision more than a decade ago banning pit bulls, a “preventative decision made on behalf of the public safety of this entire community,” Rixner said. 

Sioux City resident Mark Solheim was one of a handful of people supporting the repeal, saying pit bulls are less vicious than a bunch of other dogs.

“Great Danes have a worse bite; German shepherds have a worse bite; [English] Mastiffs have a worse bite. Dobermans have a worse bite. Cane corsos have a worse bite than pit bulls,” Solheim said.  

Referencing the fact that there are still pit bulls in Sioux City despite the ban, Solheim said, "A pit bull ban does not remove pit bulls from the city any more than gun control laws remove guns from Chicago." 

Other residents offered reasons in support of the ordinance, from pit bulls being loving dogs to responsible ownership as the biggest way to avoid problems.

Some pit bulls still remain in Sioux City because they were grandfathered in when the ban was passed. According to data from Woodbury County's public health agency Siouxland District Health, while the number of reported pit bull bites in Woodbury County has decreased since 2008, the overall number of bites reported from a variety of dog breeds has actually gone up, though not consistently each year.

In 2008, 102 dog bites in the county were reported to Siouxland District Health. The county health department received 119 dog bite reports in 2014. In 2018, 139 dog bites were reported.

Sioux city resident Gregory Giles referenced the trend in the data to the council, saying that he believes there are more informed people who are reporting their dog bites.

“The vast majority of these dog bites, if I’m not mistaken, are by unneutered dogs. If you want to have something more efficacious, it would be a mandatory spay-neuter law,” Giles said, to applause.

Credit Courtesy of Rhonda Capron
Sioux City Councilwoman Rhonda Capron's pit bull, Chief.

The city council still has to review the ordinance two more times at its next two Monday meetings before it’s fully repealed. After the meeting, councilwoman Rhonda Capron, who supports repealing the ban, shared short stories and pictures of her own pit bull, Chief. She said Chief was grandfathered in when the ban was passed.

“[He’s] just a great dog, always been a great dog,” Capron said. “He’s getting a little older, a little slower, just like me, and we get along great.”

A growing number of cities in Iowa and around the country have repealed bans on pit bulls.

The city of Anamosa in eastern Iowa lifted its ban on pit bulls last year. City Clerk Beth Brinks said it’s unclear how many pit bulls are registered with the city because as of August, the city no longer requires dog owners to register their dogs. 

Council Bluffs in western Iowa considered repealing its pit bull ban in 2016. The ban, which dates back to 2005, has been amended a couple of times since and has ultimately held steady. Council Bluffs Chief Animal Control Officer Galen Barrett said in an email that animal control investigated 137 complaints last year regarding pit bulls. A “high percentage of them were” pit bulls, he said. Like Sioux City, some pit bulls were grandfathered in if they were owned in the city before the ban was enacted.

The number of bites from pit bulls has dropped to between zero and two per year with the ban in place, Barrett said.

“That was the driving force behind the ordinance’s origin,” Barrett said. “This law is just like any other law. Even though there is a law that says you should not do something (speeding, for instance), people still do it.”

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.