© 2023 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Pit Bulls Brought To Sioux City Hall For Debate On Repealing Pit Bull Ban

The Sioux City Council is in the middle of mulling a repeal of a longtime city-wide ban on pit bulls and pit bull mixes. A couple of people brought their pit bulls to the council chambers on Monday to share how these dogs have helped them. 
During Monday’s council meeting, the second hearing of the proposed repeal, two people who own pit bulls that function as service dogs brought their dogs to the podium as they spoke in favor of repealing the ban.

Sioux City resident Marjorie Hattig said her dog, Tippy, helps with her severe diabetes. Her dog has been trained to teach her if her blood sugar is too high or too low, she said. She also has a problem with balance and cannot get up on her own if she falls.

“This dog has helped me and saved my life numerous times,” Hattig said. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here.” 

Hattig has had Tippy for about 13 years and said he is a strong dog. He's able to help her up off the floor or alert her if something is off about her blood sugar.

“Especially if my [blood] sugar goes way too low, you start passing out, you don’t know it," Hattig said. "And he’ll literally come and paw on me to get me to come through to know, ‘okay I gotta get something’ and he’ll grab a piece of candy or a piece of fruit and he’ll try and push it into me.”

When Sioux City passed a ban on pit bulls in 2008, pit bulls already owned in the city, like Tippy, were grandfathered in. That also includes Councilwoman Rhonda Capron’s pit bull, Chief

"This dog has helped me and saved my life numerous times." -Marjorie Hattig, speaking about her pit bull, Tippy.

Former Sioux City resident Robert Dean Nelson Jr. of Ledyard brought his pit bull, Lincoln, to council. He said his registered service dog helps his sleep apnea.

"I don't breathe at night half the time," Nelson said. "...If this dog hadn't woke me up almost every day, I wouldn't be here." 

He added that he left Sioux City, "because I wasn’t going to sit here and fight Sioux City. I wasn’t going to fight to keep my dog with my job or with my housing.”

Lincoln is a 3-year-old American Staffordshire terrier, a type of pit bull. Nelson said the possibility of the ban being repealed is one incentive that could bring him back to the city.

“Not just because of the ban being repealed would I move back, but it would give me more incentive if I had to move back here,” Nelson said.

People who want the pit bull ban repealed argue that most pit bulls are not vicious and responsible ownership plays a role in how the dog behaves. Those who want the city to keep the ban say allowing pit bulls in the city will make residents more vulnerable to dog bites and mauling and there could be potential lawsuits.

Sioux City code defines a pit bull as “any dog that is an American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier,” or any dog that has the appearance of those breeds. City staff recommend the council repeal the 11-year-old ban on pit bulls in city limits to be compliant with federal disability regulations and because animal control regulations across the country are ditching regulations on specific breeds of dogs and turning to more “breed neutral” regulations.  

Sioux City Mayor Bob Scott asked for a show of hands of people who support keeping the ban and those who want it repealed. Five residents in the room raised their hands to keep it, while dozens more showed support for a repeal. Jim Rixner, a former Sioux City council member who helped pass the ban 11 years ago, was one of only a couple people who spoke during the public hearing to keep the ban in place.

"I do want you to please consider the danger you are exposing the city to: financial danger, but more importantly, the danger to our children and grandchildren," said Rixner, who at aprevious council meeting, said many pit bulls are vicious.

He said the city is exposed to liability if the ordinance is repealed.

“And if someone is bit, not only will they sue the owner, they will probably find an attorney who said, ‘you had an effective ban on these dogs and you repealed it, therefore you’re liable’,” Rixner said to Iowa Public Radio after the meeting. 

In a second vote on the repeal, two of the five council members voted to keep the ban, a change since last week’s vote when councilman and former police officer Pete Groetken was the lone “no” vote, and said he was concerned about peoples’ safety. During yesterday's vote, Mayor Pro Tem Dan Moore shifted his position to be against repealing the ban.

“It was disheartening … that there are pit bulls in our community that are not in compliance with the existing ordinance,” Moore said. 

"If someone is bit, not only will they sue the owner, they will probably find an attorney who said, 'you had an effective ban on these dogs and you repealed it, therefore you're liable'." -Former Sioux City councilman Jim Rixner

Moore said part of the reason the city is considering repealing the pit bull ban is the threat of litigation because the city has an ordinance banning a specific breed of dog. “On your behalf I would not want to act under the threat of anything because the thinking then is not as clear as it should be,” Moore said to the public.

A third vote on the ordinance in two weeks will determine if the ban is officially repealed.

Current city code says pit bulls found in Sioux City that are not considered exceptions to the rule will be impounded for 10 days. After 10 days, the poundmaster "shall destroy the pit bull" unless the owner proves they will permanently remove it from the city. 

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 every year.

Some cities in Iowa and across the country have recently thrown out pit bull bans to move away from bans on specific breeds. That includes Anamosa in eastern Iowa, which lifted its ban on pit bulls last year.

Other cities across Iowa have ordinances banning pit bulls still in place, but considered throwing them out at some point. That includes Council Bluffs in western Iowa, which, in 2016 considered repealing its ban that dates back to 2005.

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.