Yesterday afternoon, Steven Woods picked up his dog Mimi from a local spay/neuter clinic. Supporters from all over the world followed the story of the young veteran who was permanently disabled by a roadside bomb in Iraq.
Once a judge declared Mimi a dangerous dog, the race was on to comply with the city's requirements and spring Mimi from the animal shelter. Woods' attorney, Randy Turner, spent countless uncompensated hours on the case. The tug of war between Turner and the city played out in public: Is a house an acceptable enclosure, or does he need to build a cage? Does his insurance policy cover dog bites?
The outcome, Steven Woods getting his dog back, is unusual. His struggle with the court system and arbitrary interpretations of city ordinances is not.
Similar stories are played out every day, especially in states with breed-specific legislation -- just skip the "did she or didn't she bite" part of the story. When a city has a breed ban or breed restriction, all a citizen has to do is own a certain breed of dog or mix thereof to face the same situation as Steven Woods.
Take the case of Patty in Missouri, a middle-aged woman, disabled due to epilepsy, who believed that she was obeying the local pit bull ordinance -- until she let her dog outside in her fenced backyard to relieve himself. The city revoked her "dangerous dog" permit because the dog was outdoors without a muzzle, even though the ordinance did not specify that indoor dogs must be muzzled in a fenced yard.
In Texas (and California, Florida, and Oklahoma, to name a few), we are fortunate to be able to move throughout the state without worrying about whether or not our dogs must wear a muzzle or even be legal at all. But with the Texas Legislature convening in January, this could change. Everything from a complete ban, to eight-foot tall cages, to allowing local governments to regulate dogs based on breed, is being floated.
Some well-intentioned people think that a law short of a breed ban is acceptable, because owners will get to keep their pets. However, it took Steven Woods a lawyer, the media, and an army of irate dog lovers from all over the world to be able to keep his dog. Most breed-specific laws in other states are virtually identical to Fort Worth's dangerous dog law, the only difference is that a dog is deemed dangerous by virtue of appearance, not by behavior.
A 40 lb., toothless, thirteen year-old pit bull in some Missouri cities must live like a dog in Fort Worth that has actually bitten a person. If a law is on the books, it must be enforced. Distinguishing "pit bulls" from boxer and Lab mixes, Rottweilers from black and tan coonhound mixes, is not easy. Nonetheless, as with any law violations mean consequences. As we have seen with the Steven Woods case, complying is not as simple as having good intentions, paying a fine and getting your dog back. The dogs, surrendered to or seized by animal control, often pay with their lives.
Cities are realizing that it is a waste of resources to pursue people like Patty. Toledo, Topeka and Delta, BC are among cities that have repealed 1990's-era breed restrictions just in the last couple of months. It makes no sense for Texas to step backward, especially given our estimated $20 billion dollar budget shortfall.
Questions to ask before passing a pit bull law.
Senator Eltife wants BSL at the local level (off-site link).