Maumelle council again looks at lifting dog-breed restrictions

A pit bull named Buddy stands with caretaker Michelle Mayer (left) and 9-year-old Charlie Burton at a dog park in the south Denver suburb of Englewood, Colo., in this Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014, file photo. Buddy was being cared for in Englewood because of a ban on pit bulls in Aurora, Colo., where the dog lived with his owners.

Maumelle's City Council is considering for the second time in two years an ordinance that would repeal a ban on residents owning pit bulls within the city.

The ordinance would amend the city code to revise enforcement procedures, eliminate the categories of "potentially dangerous animal" and "hazardous animal," change the current definition of "dangerous animal," and remove the ban on certain breeds of dogs.

Council Member Chad Gardner sponsored the ordinance, which had its first reading during last week's City Council meeting.

Gardner said the proposed ordinance would revise and strengthen the city's animal services code and end Maumelle's discrimination against certain breeds of animals based on their appearance.

"We won't have animal control going out looking at dogs based on their breeds and appearance, and in turn allow animal control to treat all dogs equally," Gardner told council members.

Eva Palmer, a Maumelle resident and a senior at St. Joseph School in Conway, told council members that she had done extensive research on the breed ban for a Girl Scout project and supported repealing the ban.

"I understand the intention of [breed-specific legislation] is to protect the community from potentially dangerous animals," Palmer said. "However, I have learned that BSL is not an effective solution and does more harm than good."

Palmer told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in an interview Thursday that she began researching the topic in July, after becoming interested in the subject in 2019 after she learned of Maumelle's ban on American pit bull terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers and American bulldogs.

She ultimately decided that addressing the ban would be a good topic for her Girl Scout Gold Award project.

Palmer said she began researching breed-specific legislation and came to the conclusion that such legislation was ineffective.

"It punishes those who have well-trained, banned dogs without holding owners of truly dangerous dogs accountable," Palmer told the council. "Additionally, BSL provides a false sense of security without emphasizing the importance of socializing and training, because it implies that a dog's behavior is their fault."

Palmer suggested alternatives to breed bans, including an emphasis on holding dog owners accountable, stricter leash laws, increased availability of low-cost sterilization services, laws that prohibit chaining and confinement of dogs, and enhanced enforcement of animal cruelty laws.

"I decided that it was important for me to speak at the city council meeting on February 1st because I realized that communicating my findings to my local legislators is the only way to make a tangible difference in repealing breed-specific legislation," Palmer said in an email to the Democrat-Gazette. "While it was nerve-racking for me to deliver my speech in front of the council, I believe that it was a necessary step in effectively spreading my research to the public and educating the councilmen about my project."

R.J. Mazzoni urged fellow council members to consider taking a measured approach to the idea of repealing the ban.

"When you look at Cabot, they have certain restrictions where they have to be neutered and some other restrictions," Mazzoni said. "I think some of the steps are too far, like having a sticker on your house, but it's something we should consider. We need to look at everything. We can't go from zero to 60 here."

Council Member Steve Mosley said he understands that supporters of the proposed ordinance view the ban as discriminatory and believe that a dog's owner should be held responsible, but he said he doesn't view those as good arguments.

"They are trying to equate dogs to humans," he said. "Dogs don't have equal rights. Dogs are born with certain innate abilities, like retrievers automatically retrieve things and English setters point at birds.

"Pit bull dogs are fighters, and they tend to snap. I don't think you can blame the owner. It's the dogs that do the biting. If the dogs aren't here, they aren't going to bite anybody."

Gardner and fellow Council Member Terry Williams in 2019 introduced an ordinance to lift Maumelle's ban on dog breeds such as the American bulldog and the pit bull, but the proposal was voted down.

Gardner said Thursday that one of the reasons he brought it back up this year is that new members have been elected to the City Council.

"I knew at least one of them was looking to help revise the animal ordinance," he said. "In 2019, we failed 5-3, so we were technically one vote short of getting it passed. With a new election and new faces on the council, I decided to give it a go again."

City Attorney Melissa Krebs and officials with the city's animal services department helped create the proposed ordinance, Gardner said.

"Two years ago, I received a lot of support from the community," Gardner said. "I only received four or five emails that were against it but a whole lot that were for it."

Mosley told the Democrat-Gazette that he voted against the previously proposed ordinance when it came up more than a year ago, and he said he plans to vote against the current proposal, too.

"I've personally seen what a pit bull can do to another animal when it attacks, and thus I have safety concerns for our children and pet animals here in Maumelle," he said in an email. "I heard from many, many constituents the last time this came up and again while going door to door campaigning, and I continue to be convinced that the vast majority want to keep the ban in place."

Gardner said 21 states had outlawed breed-discriminatory bans as of last year, adding that it is time for Maumelle to move forward. He said the idea of the city not being safe because of pit bulls and bulldogs doesn't make sense.

"We had more dog bites from Labrador retrievers and German shepherds than any other dog in 2018," Gardner said. "Are we going to ban Labradors? No, because it's ridiculous, and the Labrador is the most popular dog in the country.

"No data shows that one specific breed is more dangerous than the other. If you look across the country, you will see various dog breeds are banned. A person was attacked by a German shepherd, and they banned German shepherds. It was all emotional decisions made at the time."

Gardner said that if communities will shift the focus to educating and enforcing dog laws that prevent chaining and tethering, as well as helping with sterilization, then they will have greater success in reducing dog bites than they would by discriminating against specific breeds.

"Breed bans are not an effective solution for preventing dog bites and give residents a false sense of security that they're protected from dogs," he said, "but the fact is any dog can bite."