Ombudsman: Pit bull ban too vague
A report issued today from State Ombudsman Bill Angrick to Maquoketa officials concludes that the city ordinance banning “pit bull terrier dogs” is unconstitutionally vague and unenforceable.
“Pit bull terrier dogs” is a general term that includes many different breeds of dog and the Iowa Supreme Court decided that an ordinance must reference specific breeds of dogs it wishes to ban.
Last July, a Maquoketa police officer cited a resident for having a pit bull mix in violation of the pit bull ordinance. A hearing held later concluded the dog was a pit bull mix, and the dog was ordered removed from the city. The resident appealed to the city council, which affirmed the decision.
Angrick’s report also concludes the city council and police chief:
• Unreasonably concluded the dog was a pit bull mix without relying on a veterinarian or other expert to determine the dog’s breed.
• Acted contrary to law when the city applied the ordinance to a mixed breed dog.
• Revised the ordinance after the city council’s decision to include pit bull mixes, but the ordinance still failed to identify specific breeds of dogs. Therefore, the revised ordinance remained unconstitutionally vague.
The Ombudsman’s report concludes with the following recommendations:
• The present dog ban ordinance is unconstitutionally vague. To ban certain dogs from city limits, the council should draft an ordinance identifying the specific breeds it wishes to ban.
• If the council wishes to ban mixed breeds, it should incorporate language banning dogs that share characteristics predominantly found in those breeds banned by the city and provide guidelines detailing the characteristics looked for in the suspected dog.
• The city should consult with a veterinarian in each case where the city considers whether a specific dog is a banned breed or a dog with the predominate characteristics of a banned breed.
• The city should vacate its decision against the resident and allow her to have her dog within city limits. If the city still believes there is a factual and legal basis to serve the resident with an abatement notice, it should do so after the city has revised its ordinance to conform with the above recommendations.
The council and police chief were provided an opportunity to submit a written reply, but no reply was received.