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Should ordinance single out pit bulls?
The Wichita Eagle
Whether to single pit bulls out for extra regulation has become the bone of contention in a proposed Wichita animal control ordinance.

On one side are people like Kay Johnson, the city's director of environmental services. She contends that measures are needed to limit the number of pit bulls wandering Wichita's streets and ending up -- often unclaimed -- in the animal shelter.

Pit bulls have become a "status symbol" and are being indiscriminately bred, subjected to cruel and illegal dog fights and in too many cases neglected, she said.

"We've got them running all over the place."

On the other side are people like Patricia Deshler, Wichita Kennel Club vice president. She argues that it is wrong to target specific breeds.

"They should judge the dog by their deed, not their breed," said Deshler, who raises
miniature poodles.

"As an American, I ought to be able to own whatever I want and not have a government agency tell me what to do with them."

The pit bull proposals drew questions of clarification in a recent City Council workshop meeting. City officials have been discussing the proposals with community groups and pit bull owners. No date for a council vote has been set.

The pit bull regulations are part of a proposed animal control ordinance aimed at toughening the stance against aggressive dogs and their owners. Under the proposal, a dog could be found to be dangerous if it shows aggressive behavior. It doesn't require a bite.

Johnson and Deshler agree that the pit bull proposals are the most contentious part.

According to Johnson, the pit bull regulations would:

• Limit ownership to no more than two pit bulls per household, meaning that some owners would have to give up some of their dogs to adoption. Currently, owners can have up to four pit bulls if they have a special animal maintenance permit. The ordinance would basically define pit bulls as among several different breeds or mixes specified by the American Kennel Club and meeting certain physical characteristics.

• Require pit bulls to have a microchip implant so they could be traced to their owners.

• Require pit bulls to be spayed or neutered unless they are show dogs or the owner gets a breeder's license. The license was initially proposed to cost $150; in the latest proposal, that has been lowered to $50.

• Prohibit convicted felons from owning, possessing or living with any pit bull or dangerous dog.

The pit bull regulations amount to a compromise, short of a pit-bull ban -- which some other communities have adopted, Johnson said.

"We know that there can be good pit bulls" and responsible owners, she said.

"We are not in our ordinance saying that pit bulls are inherently dangerous," Johnson said.
But pit bulls pose a disproportionate problem, she said, citing statistics:

Of 5,400 dogs housed in the city shelter last year, about 1,500, or 28 percent, were pit bulls. Seventeen of 23 dogs shot by Wichita police last year were pit bulls. Pit bulls account for one-third of all dogs euthanized by city staff and nearly one-third of reported animal bites or attacks.

The dogs can be especially aggressive in packs, Johnson said. They "are attacking the weaker animal or person or child because of that aggressive nature," she said.

"People are afraid of them."

But Deshler, the Wichita Kennel Club vice president, said targeting pit bulls wouldn't be effective because "the bad guys are just going to find a bigger and meaner dog that they can make as a nuisance.

"You can make any dog real mean" -- the breed doesn't matter, she said.

Singling out a breed, she said, is like singling out someone's race.

One pit bull owner, Peggy Murray, says her pit bull Princess is protective but gentle. Murray found the dog on her front porch several years ago.

"She put her paws on my chest and licked my face... and she's been with us ever since.

"I'm for spaying and neutering any dog," Murray said.

But, she said, "I don't like the idea of breed-specific" regulations.

City Council member Jim Skelton said he has not decided whether the ordinance should target pit bulls.

On one hand, he said, "The evidence does show that pit bulls are problematic over other breeds."

Still, he said, "I think there are other dogs, too, that are potentially hazardous.

"I think we need to be fair."


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