What timing: The day before the Yakima City Council voted on whether to overturn a 30-year-old ordinance governing pit bulls, two of the breed attacked each other in an incident that saw one dog owner bitten while trying to break up the fight, and one dog shot after it charged a Yakima police officer. This anecdote adds to others over the years and underscores why the council’s caution in changing the law is understandable and justifiable. By the way, the dog survived despite taking two bullets from the officer’s gun.
The ban also survived the March 20 council vote despite testimony from almost two dozen people who say the law unfairly targets certain breeds; the ordinance — more strict regulation than an outright ban — names the American pit bull terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, American bulldog, American Staffordshire terrier breed and dogs mixed with any of these breeds. Owners with such dogs must meet conditions that include paying certain fines and fees, posting “dangerous dog lives here” signs, and keeping the dog inside or in a six-sided outdoor enclosure.
While the law remains in place, the council isn’t done with the issue. It directed city staff and the council’s Public Safety Committee to develop a more comprehensive dangerous dogs ordinance.
One can sympathize with those seeking the changes, some of whom invoke a nature-vs.-nuture argument that the law would be more effective targeting irresponsible dog owners rather than the dogs themselves. Among those testifying before the council were two Yakima Humane Society officials who argued that nothing inherent to the breeds makes them more dangerous, that it’s difficult to identify the banned breeds by sight alone, and that the ordinance fosters a false sense of security among city residents. The Humane Society also argued against the ordinance when the council implemented it in 1987.
Their City Council champion is Carmen Mendez, who cites a pending lawsuit against the city’s ordinance and says the city’s legal counsel has found issues with the law has written.
The recent pit bull incident likely was on the council’s mind during its March 20 vote, and that situation has plenty of precedent; the ordinance’s 1987 approval came after several pit bull attacks. Perhaps the mostly grisly incident came in 1995, when two pit bulls got loose, ran into the back yard of a wheelchair-bound 75-year-old man and mauled him to death in a westside neighborhood.
So while the perception of pit bulls may be unfair to all in the breed, the public sees enough of these stories to shape a perception that cannot be ignored in the political realm, which the City Council inhabits. Certainly, any potential legal issues should be resolved, and a more comprehensive law regarding dangerous dogs of any breed would be in order. Beyond that, the council is right to regard any changes with caution and due consideration.
Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Bob Crider and Frank Purdy.