HOLCOMB — For three years, Trudy Reha of Holcomb has been organizing a petition calling for the Holcomb City Council to lift its current breed-specific legislation on pit bulls, and in that time, it has garnered several hundred signatures.
On Wednesday, Reha, a registered veterinarian technician, presented the petition to the council, along with information on pit bulls in hopes that the council would reconsider its breed-specific ordinance.
Reha said she brought the issue before the council because three years ago, a puppy came into the clinic where she works that she considered adopting.
“A 4-week-old, malnourished, hypoglycemic — it came from a meth house. Basically, I was not allowed to adopt her because I live in the city limits. She was kind of a pit bull-boxer mix-type dog,” Reha said. “Just because of what her appearance may or may not have been, it eliminated me being able to take her and do the appropriate medical care she needed.”
Reha said the puppy ultimately had to be euthanized because of its condition.
“Pit bulls are not a breed I’m worried about going in with, and I feel comfortable telling you that because I’m the one with years of experience that if there’s a really bad dog in the room, I’m the one they come get. I’m usually the doctor’s first line of defense,” Reha told council members. “I’ve been bit by more dogs than I can even remember, and I can’t even tell you what all my scars are from, but it’s not specific breeds that I look at to see if I’m going to worry about them. It’s body language when I approach them, whether they are dog aggressive, human aggressive.”
According to Holcomb City Administrator Robin Lujan, Holcomb’s code on the breed states that it's unlawful to keep, harbor, own or in any way possess a pit bull within city limits.
The ordinance states that a pit bull is defined as: the Staffordshire bull terrier, the American pit bull terrier, the American Staffordshire terrier, or any dog that has the appearance and characteristics of being predominantly of the breeds of any of those. The city ordinance on vicious animals as a whole states that it's unlawful for any person to keep, possess or harbor a vicious animal within the city.
Lujan said on Thursday that the ordinance was passed in June 1988 and that there have been a few instances where Holcomb residents have had pit bulls and had to get rid of them to comply with the ordinance.
Animallaw.info calls defines breed specific laws as those that either ban or restricts ownership of certain dogs based on their appearance and operates under the presumption that certain physical characteristics make some breeds more dangerous than others.
“There are some large cities that I know still have it and there are some that are starting to pull it because when you start looking at the ethics behind the law, that’s something that you can fight in court,” Reha said of breed specific ordinances. “Breed-specific legislation is not any different than racial profiling. Just because because it’s a pit bull doesn’t mean it’s going to be the aggressive one… If it’s not something that you guys feel comfortable voting on, I ask that it be put on the ballot to ask the citizens.”
Councilman Brian Rupp said during Wednesday’s meeting that he favors having a discussion on changing the ordinance.
“Of course, there’s two sides to every story, and I think that we should definitely be informed on both sides of it before we ever take any kind of action on that,” he said.
Reha provided the council with information, resources and studies on pit bulls in an attempt to justify a change in the ordinance, to include a 2016 study by the University of Florida that was published in the Veterinary Journal. The study indicated a pit bull is not a specific breed, but a term derived from dogs from heritage breeds, including Staffordshire terriers and Staffordshire bull terriers.
In the study, the research team evaluated breed assessments of 120 dogs made by 16 shelter staff members, including four veterinarians. The staff members took blood DNA samples from the dogs, developed DNA profiles for each animal and compared the findings to the staff’s initial assessments.
It is difficult to do DNA profiles because what people call a pit bull is not a specific breed, but a mixed breed, Reha said.
The study indicated that dogs with what would be considered pit bull DNA were identified only 33 to 75 percent of the time, depending on which of the staff members was judging them. Conversely, dogs in the study lacking any genetic evidence of relevant breeds were labeled as pit bull-type dogs 0 to 48 percent of the time, Reha said.
“So usually people looking at a dog, even with years of experience, are not identifying dogs correctly, which makes it hard to do a breed-specific legislation,” Reha said.
Reha also presented a study conducted by the American Temperament Testing Society. The results she presented showed pit bull terriers passed the temperament test at a rate of 86.8 percent, second to the Labrador retriever, which passed at a rate of 92 percent. Mixed breeds also passed at a rate of 86.6 percent, while Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds passed at a rate of 85.2 and 84.2 percent, respectively, Reha said. The Staffordshire Terrier passed at a rate of 84.5 percent.
“I wanted to present you with information and research that I have done and ask that you revoke the breed specific legislation and do it as an aggressive dog,” Reha said. “Every dog has a possibility of biting… Taking out one breed shouldn’t be much worse. If they’re going to show aggression, then they’re going to show aggression.”
While some organizations say breed-specific legislation is ineffective, others like Dog Bite Law, state that there is a large and growing group that say "ban pit bulls and their closely related breeds”, according to its site dogbitelaw.com. Dog Bite Law’s website claims it is the No. 1 dog bite law resource on the internet, and its author, Kenneth M. Phillips, is the only lawyer in the United States who, since the 1990s, has represented just dog bite victims all over the country.
“This group of advocates is diverse and respected, and it even includes Ingrid Newkirk, the president of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). They see the pit bull as overly dangerous and overly abused by mankind…” the website reads. “…Undisputed that pit bulls in particular are the most abused dog in the USA; created for the specific purpose of violence, the dogs are treated cruelly to make them as dangerous as possible, and are routinely abandoned when they are not vicious enough for their evil masters.”
Reha suggested evaluating dogs on whether they showed signs of aggression or are reported to be aggressive. Rupp said his concern would be that incidents involving the breed would occur after the change in ordinance.
“Most of the time when incidents happen, it’s after the fact, after the dog has shown aggression,” Rupp said.
Councilman Jerry Quint said the ordinance likely was enacted before any of the current council members sat on the board, and that more discussion would have to take place before a decision could be made.
Council members took no action on the matter and stated they would have to examine the information before making a decision at a future meeting.
Contact Josh Harbour at email@example.com.