The Sioux City Council decided Monday to toss an 11-year ban on pit bulls and pit bull mixes in the city limits.
Sioux City council members had been discussing the repeal of the ban since mid-October to be more compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act and to move away from a "breed-specific" ban. Pit bulls will be allowed in Sioux City at the beginning of December, after a notice is printed in the local newspaper.
“It’s about time,” said Gregory Giles, who owns four pit bulls, but lives outside of the city limits. “And the pit bull community is very happy to see it overturned.”
Giles, who grew up in Sioux City but moved away, said he was scheduled to move back to his hometown with his wife Rande years ago; but when they found out there was a pit bull ban, they scrambled to find housing in neighboring Plymouth County. He said if they could find an acreage in Sioux City equivalent to what they currently have, they could move back now that pit bulls are allowed.
The 4-to-1 vote came in the third meeting in which the repeal was discussed and voted on since October. Public hearings on the proposal attracted strong viewpoints from both sides. People who wanted the city to keep the ban generally argued that pit bulls are vicious and the city is safer with a ban in place. Others who wanted the ban repealed generally argued that responsible ownership plays a role in how a pit bull behaves. At a council meeting last month, a couple of people brought their pit bull service dogs into the council chambers at City Hall, to share how much their pit bulls have helped them.
In a Letter to the Editor in the Sioux City Journal Sunday, Jim Rixner, a strong supporter of the ban who was on the council when it was voted through 11 years ago, wrote: "God protect our children and grandchildren from these dangerous animals since the city will no longer do it."
The city council heard final comments from the public Monday afternoon, before the vote.
Sioux City resident Glenn Baker said he wanted the ban to stay.
“I think it’s an important thing. I think if we look at the pit bulls, I know that they have a much higher propensity as an animal to bite than some of the other breeds,” Baker said. “…Keep in mind that it is a safety issue for our city.”
Raylee Hudson, a 19-year-old from Sioux City, got emotional as she spoke against the ban in front of the council. She said she’s owned four pit bulls in her life.
“One of them had to be put down because of this ban, and it wasn’t even a pit bull itself. It was an American bulldog,” Hudson said.
Hudson added she has been bit by numerous dogs, including a German shepherd, a boxer and a hound, but no pit bulls.
“I don’t think that this breed of dog should be put to sleep just because of the way it looks or because of how one person wants to raise their dog,” Hudson said. “It’s not how the dog is built, it’s how the person raised it.”
Under the ban on pit bulls and pit bull mixes Sioux City passed in 2008, city code defined a pit bull as, “Any dog that is an American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or any dog which has the appearance and characteristics of being predominately of the breeds of Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier or American Staffordshire Terrier as set forth in the standards established by the American Kennel Club or United Kennel Club for any of the aforementioned breeds.”
Pit bulls registered before April 25, 2009 and then registered annually, were grandfathered in, under the ban, meaning that there were still pit bulls living in city limits over the last 11 years.
Alongside repealing the pit bull ban, the council also voted for changes to the animal control code to encourage responsible ownership, including putting fines in place for owners if an animal bites or attacks, and increasing pet licensing fees.
Under the change, a person can be fined $100 if their animal attacks someone, but does not seriously injure them. A $750 fine will be imposed on an owner if their animal bites or attacks someone and causes a serious injury or death. The code also clarifies definitions for “high risk” and “vicious” animals.
The annual licensing fees for neutered dogs and cats will increase from $11 to $15. Licensing fees for unneutered dogs will go up from $31 to $50, while licensing fees for unneutered cats will stay at $31. City officials and council members said at a previous council meeting that licensing fee increase will incentivize more people to neuter their pets. Unneutered animals are often associated with more aggressive behavior.
City staff initially proposed a fee increase from $31 to $125 for unneutered dogs. The $50 is closer to the average fees that other populous cities in Iowa charge.
With the changes to the animal control code as well as the repeal of the pit bull ban, Sioux City Mayor Bob Scott said he hopes the city is serious about holding people accountable if they aren’t responsible owners.
“I hope we’re really serious about that in this community because I would tend to agree that sometimes what a problem with a dog is, is a problem with an owner,” Scott said.
A Broader Trend
Cities in Iowa and around the country have been taking a second look at their pit bull bans, with many moving towards more “breed-neutral” laws to avoid potential litigation. The city of Maquoketa in eastern Iowa scrapped its pit bull ban last week for an ordinance that focuses on holding owners accountable for problematic and vicious animals, by imposing fines.
“If my cockapoo is a problem and is vicious and a threat to the community, that’s a problem that needs to be addressed,” said Maquoketa City Councilwoman Jessica Kean. “Just because he’s not a pit bull doesn’t mean he can’t be a danger to somebody.”
Until the vote repealing the ban last week, pit bulls had not been allowed in the Maquoketa city limits since the 1980s.
“There’s no research that [pit bull bans] have been effective in any community at preventing dog bites or preserving public safety in any way,” Kean said.
Preston Moore, the Iowa State Director for the Humane Society of the United States, told the Sioux City Council on Monday that the changes it made to the code and the repeal of the pit bull ban, will “make Sioux City safer" and will allow Sioux City to be "a more humane place." In an interview with Iowa Public Radio last week, Moore said pit bull bans in cities across the country have created a false sense of security.
“Cities and police departments and animal control agencies are realizing that in an attempt to make their communities safe, they’ve actually done the opposite,” Moore said. “They’ve forced people that own these dogs to get rid of them or hide them, which makes them undersocialized. Instead now we’re seeing communities push for ordinances that are actually enforceable.”
Twenty-two states prohibit ordinances that single out pit bulls or other breeds of dogs, Moore said. Iowa is not one of them.