The amendment was offered up by David Bunsness, who said it was patterned after a law in effect in a Colorado city.
The amendment would have made it unlawful for any person to own, possess, keep, exercise control over, maintain, harbor, transport or sell within the city any pit bull. Those dogs would include American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers and Staffordshire bull terriers. Existing owners of pit bulls would be able to keep their dogs under restricted conditions.
The amendment was put forward as the council considered the first reading of recommended changes to Aberdeen’s animal control ordinances.
Before considering the revised ordinance, the council heard from former city animal control officer Stacy Sexton and Brooke and Sean Meyers of Aberdeen.
Sexton, who was animal control officer before John Weaver, said a leash law — called for in the revised ordinance — is long overdue. Pet ownership is a serious matter, he said, and the revised ordinance is a step in the right direction. He also said he’s against any type of breed ban.
The Meyers’ 5-year-old son was attacked by a pit bull last July. They were lucky, Sean Meyers said, that the youth required only 16 stitches. He estimated that the child’s medical costs were somewhere around $10,000 for the emergency room, plastic surgery and a psychologist. Meyers doesn’t see a pit bull ban happening, he said, but he urged the council to make dog owners responsible for their dogs.
Until Monday, Bunsness said, the council had heard from the dog-owners' side. “There is another side to this, and that is the human tragedy that happens,” he said.
The stiff language in the revised animal control ordinance, Bunsness said, comes into play only after a dog has been determined to be dangerous. Someone has to get hurt first. “And that’s too late in my book,” he said.
Other cities, including Denver and Miami, have banned pit bulls. “I’m not going to pass on this one. This is too important,” Bunsness said.
Councilman Clint Rux noted that any dog, not just a pit bull, could have attacked the Meyers’ son. He wants to deal with the overall problem of dog bites, he said. A breed ban, if necessary, could always come later.
Mayor Mike Levsen supported Bunsness’ amendment. The council, he said, had an opportunity to decide if Aberdeen is going to have a limited number of pit bulls or an unlimited number.
Pit bulls make up a small percentage of the dogs in Aberdeen, but are responsible for a significant share of the dog bites, Levsen said.
The amendment, he said, wouldn’t take anybody’s dog away. It would just require people who want a dog to buy a different kind of dog.
What would happen, Levsen asked, if three years from now another couple like the Meyers approaches the council after their child has been attacked by a pit bull owned by a responsible person? Those people might tell the council that “You people had a chance to keep that pit bull out of town three years ago and you didn’t do it.”
In addition to Bunsness and Levsen, the amendment was supported by Laure Swanson and Tom Agnitsch.
Bunsness said he may bring up the amendment again at the ordinance’s second reading, next Monday.
During the meeting, city attorney Adam Altman detailed the changes that are included in the revised ordinance.
Among other things, the ordinance would require owners of dangerous animals to carry a minimum of $500,000 in liability insurance, an increase of $250,000 over the current requirement, and have an identifying microchip implanted in the animal.
Currently, animals must stay within 100 feet of a home. The revised law would require that an animal stay on a homeowner’s property. It would also allow Aberdonians to use invisible, electronic restraints, which are not currently allowed.
The revised ordinance would ban animal breeding operations in the city. Another change would involve rabies vaccinations. Currently, dog licenses are given out annually. Under the revised ordinance, for animals six months or older, the license would last as long as the rabies vaccination is good for.
An amendment offered by Kraft, which passed, would implement a six-foot leash law for all dogs.