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Council says no to pit bulls

Dog supporters want BSL repeal on Minot ballot

Petitions are circulating for a ballot measure to end Minot’s breed-specific law after the Minot City Council voted 1-6 Wednesday against repeal of a pit-bull ban.

Lianne Zeltinger began the petition drive at the conclusion of a more than three-hour meeting, at which the council acted on recommendations of two committees tasked with addressing the city’s nuisance animal and pet regulation ordinances. The committee’s recommendation to repeal an ordinance that prohibits pit bulls drew the largest share of public interest, mostly from supporters but also from those advocating to keep the ordinance.

“I was in support of the ban until I started doing research,” Zeltinger told the council. Zeltinger, who hopes to collect 3,000 signatures by April 9 to get a measure on the June 12 ballot, suggested Minot follow the example of other North Dakota cities that do not ban breeds but have dangerous dog ordinances. About 2,800 signatures are required to get on the ballot.

Council members voted to have staff draft a dangerous dog ordinance similar to a Fargo ordinance. They remained reluctant to lift the breed-specific ban, though.

“Is the dangerous dog ordinance a better way to mitigate the risk?” council member Josh Wolsky said. “That’s the question that I think we really have to deal with, and the answer to that is ‘I don’t know’ because we don’t have a dangerous dog ordinance yet.”

He said he is not willing to accept what might be false security associated with a dangerous animal ordinance. He indicated he might change his mind about a pit-bull ban if a dangerous dog ordinance proves itself and makes the choice clear.

“But it is not a clear choice for me today,” he said.

“I think that banning certain breeds was a historical accident. I think it was a mistake based on what we know now. But that’s where we are at,” said council member Stephan Podrygula. However, until the city has a better alternative to a pit bull ban, he said, “I am not willing, at this point, to give up what we have.”

“If we are going to lift the ban,” council member Mark Jantzer said, “I would like to see some additional things, like perhaps requiring that the animals be microchipped, perhaps requiring that they have completed certain kinds of training and so forth, so that we can incrementally increase the assurance that we have that the animals that would be in town are less likely to be a problem.”

Mayor Chuck Barney said he cannot support repeal based on his understanding of aggressive dog breeds and information showing that while pit bulls may not bite more often, their bites are often catastrophic.

Council member Shawn Sipma said he has spoken with many people, both in the city and living outside the city, who oppose repeal for safety and other reasons. He said the numbers of people supporting BSL exceed those who are against BSL.

Council member Lisa Olson said she can’t in good conscience bring a pet into her house that might be a danger to someone.

“I just think it’s wrong to expect that we are going to allow those dogs into our community when they can be a risk to people,” she said.

Shannon Straight, who chaired the animal ordinance committee and cast the only council vote to repeal the ban, called the current law too subjective because it requires pit-bull identification by appearance. He noted the workload it places on animal control officers to try to identify and deal with pit bulls. He advocated pet licensing compliance and rules regarding dangerous animals as better options.

“I think we have to put the onus a little bit more back on you all to be more responsible,” he told dog owners in the audience.

Several residents spoke on behalf of repeal while a few advocated for keeping the ordinance.

Kim Albert presented national statistics indicating 6 percent of the U.S. dog population consists of pit-bull type dogs, yet those dogs are responsible for 71 percent of all dog-attack fatalities.

Chad Martin of Minot said that while the bite of pit bull-type dogs can be more lethal, the dogs aren’t more vicious.

“That doesn’t mean that pit bulls attack more. In fact you are more likely to get bit by a Rottweiler. Or a Labrador. Or a Chihuahua,” he said.

Police Chief Jason Olson offered his concerns about pit bulls.

“From my standpoint, it’s a public safety issue. There’s something about this breed that, every once in a while, one of them turns on their own family or on their neighbor, and when they do, the consequences are severe,” he said.

Randy McDonald, executive director of the Souris Valley Animal Shelter, took no position on the ordinance but emphasized the difficulty of identifying a pit bull. He mentioned the case of a shelter puppy adopted into the community that grew up to take on pit-bull characteristics, forcing it to be removed. Appearance also doesn’t reflect the temperament that a mixed-breed dog might have inherited, he said.

“There’s so much gray area in this,” he said.

Miranda Schuler, a former council member, said she has come to oppose breed-specific legislation since first looking into it three years ago. She listed a number of organizations that don’t support BSL, including the Humane Society of the United States, American Veterinary Medical Association and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She said the definition of pit bull in Minot’s ordinance is in question and could include popular dogs like boxers.

“This is too complex, too muddy of a topic for me to say that we should include and continue to keep the BSL on the books,” she said.

BSL opponent Gina Manley acknowledged the difficulty in overturning a ban that’s been in place since the mid-1990s.

“Was there an incident that caused people to be scared? Was there an incident that caused people to act irrationally? Why do we still do it?” she asked.

There was no opposition to drafting a dangerous animal ordinance, although the police chief said he is satisfied with the existing nuisance and vicious animal ordinance.

“I find our current ordinances are in my opinion adequate, but if there’s some element of them that’s lacking, maybe that can be brought forth. Our current ordinance is pretty simple and straightforward compared to the Fargo ordinance,” Olson said.

Straight responded the ordinance needs to be stronger on the nuisance side to identify a potentially dangerous dog.

“It gives us more teeth, and it allows more transformation to take place so we can be more proactive and try to eliminate some possible threats before they happen,” he said.

The council unanimously approved the drafting of a new ordinance.

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