Banning pit bulls from Lawrence is not the way to protect the public, city commissioners agreed Tuesday night. But coming up with alternatives could help put some teeth into the city's attack on problems involving vicious dogs.
Turns out the city's proposed ban on pit bulls was all bark and no bite -- for now.
Tuesday night, Lawrence city commissioners backed off imminent plans to ban new pit bulls from coming to Lawrence, and also decided against placing strict new rules on existing pit bulls in town.
They agreed to wait after hearing from dozens of dog owners, veterinarians and other interested parties -- through phone calls, e-mail and personal conversations -- who objected to the proposed "breed-specific" ban on pit bulls.
The move to ban the breed had come last week from commissioners themselves, after they heard complaints about a pit bull attacking and killing a small Yorkshire terrier May 18 outside 611 Ill.
Tuesday night, however, commissioners decided to wait a few weeks, mull their options and come up with a law that works for everyone.
Expect a new draft ordinance to be ready within a month.
"I have long believed: If you want it bad, you get it bad," said Erv Hodges, one of five commissioners who pushed for prompt action a week ago. "If you rush and write a bad ordinance that can't be enforced, you're worse off than we are today."
Instead, Hodges said, commissioners want city staffers to draw up a law that would attack the city's "dangerous dog" problem on several fronts:
- Define a "dangerous" or "vicious" dog, and do not limit the description to any specific breed. Such a law should focus on the action of a particular dog, not any animal with a perceived genetic disposition to attack.
- Strengthen the city's existing leash law, which currently allows a dog to be outside as long as it is "in the charge, care and control of its owner." Leashes are required only downtown, in public parks or on school grounds. Such rules could be extended citywide.
- Consider a licensing program -- possibly including the implantation of an embedded microchip -- for all dogs, to help identify owners whose animals are found to be vicious or otherwise troublesome. "One of the first things that an irresponsible owner does is deny responsibility," Commissioner Mike Rundle said.
Commissioners also discussed the possibility of hiring more animal control officers, a move that would provide the public with extended hours of protection and increased enforcement.
The moves came as a relief to many dog owners, veterinarians and others who filled the commission's meeting room Tuesday night to fight off a draft ordinance that would have outlawed any new pit bulls from coming to Lawrence. The law also would have required owners of pit bulls to post "Beware of Dog" signs, register each dog with the city, maintain liability insurance and keep each dog either inside or in a locked kennel or pen unless on a leash less than 4 feet long.
Such dogs also would have been required to be licensed by the city, and owners would have had to give the city two color photos of the dog and allow the Lawrence Humane Society to insert an embedded microchip into the dog to help officials track its identity and ownership.
"It's punishing responsible people for the sins of the few," said Todd Karnahan, who owns a pit bull and questioned local officials' reliance on dog laws in surrounding communities. "It's a real reactionary law. "
"I hate to say it's the trendy way to go, but if Olathe jumped off a bridge we would."
Sean Conary, who owns an American pit bull, said he wouldn't be able to afford the new kennel, the liability insurance and other proposed regulations. He also questioned the idea of banishing a breed of dogs from town without consideration for their upbringing or other factors.
"It's kind of the same as banning (all) children because of (a few) bad parents," Conary said.
-- Mark Fagan's phone message number is 832-7188. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.