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City Council Hears Recommendations for Change in Dog Ordinance

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DES MOINES, Iowa - After several months of meetings among a city-appointed committee to review the city's dog ordinance, committee members presented proposals for change in the code to council members Monday.

The committee - made up of city staff and citizen members - had numerous suggestions for change in the ordinance, including a specific definition for "dog bite" to ensure officials treat all dog attacks consistently. However, the controversial issue lies within "breed specific language" within the ordinance targeting certain types of dogs - like the pit bull - as "vicious" without needing a prior attack on the dog's record. Owners of these types of breeds in Des Moines currently must go through extra steps, like purchasing insurance on the dog, and micro-chipping it, that owners of other breeds do not. While some members of the community have pushed for a removal of breed specific language - arguing all dogs have the potential to harm someone, and a dog should not be categorized as "vicious" with extra regulations before it's done harm - the committee's formal suggestion was to keep the regulations on pit bulls in place. Instead of classifying them as "vicious," the committee recommends they change the label to "high risk."

"All it is, is saying, there's a definition called 'vicious dog' in the code, and it's under a definition. All this is saying, is, 'Well, we won't call them vicious dogs anymore - we'll call them high risk,' said Bill Schoenenberger, a citizen member on the committee. "But everything else is the same, at least as it was presented yesterday."

Schoenenberger says the breed specific language issue was one the committee could not come to agreement on; while he supported ending BSL, staff members on the committee encouraged council to keep it. Schoenenberger advocated to council on his own to remove it.

"What some of the recommendations - what my recommendation was - was that, as part of that definition, is, you no longer need to say that just because a dog is identified as a pit bull, or a pit bull-like dog, it should not be classified as 'vicious' or 'high risk' right from the beginning," he said.

City councilman Bob Mahaffey says the committee presented statistics highlighting the labrador breed as the second-highest reported dog to bite someone in Des Moines. While there are many more of this breed in the city, their number of reported bites is much lower than the pit bull breed. The statistics, Mahaffey says, were meant to show that BSL should remain in the city code.

Christine Pardee - a former committee member and citizen campaigning for an end to BSL - was not able to attend the hearing. However, Monday morning she sent council members an email advocating her position.

"Des Moines can do better by its dogs and dog owners," she said in the email. "Close to 2,000 citizens have signed a petition asking you to repeal BSL in the City of Des Moines. They are voters and they are paying very close attention to your action on this topic today. "

Mahaffey says it will still be several weeks before council decides what they'll change; he expects a decision sometime after the New Year.


  • Sue

    Ok, I know that I will get skewered for this…
    I’m sorry, I think there are certain breeds that need to be handled differently. If you are going to have a pit bull, or ‘pit bull type’ of dog, the maies at least, should have to be fixed. I think breed specific language is appropriate. And yes, my niece has two pitbulls. they sleep with her two year old son. they are very good, loving dogs. I get that, there are good pitbulls out there. However, they are a stronger willed dog. They generally need to be handled differently.

    Quite often, these are the dogs that are chosen by people who do not want a pet, but, want an extension of their ego and want something that looks fierce and tough.. No…I am NOT saying all ‘pit buil’ owners fall into that group, but, you see your ‘tougher’ individuals with pit bulls chained up in the back yard a lot more often them you see them with poodles in the back yard.

    When a ‘pit bull type’ of dog attacks, it can do a lot more damage much more quickly then a lot of other dogs can. And, they do appear to attack differently then other dogs.

    It’s no different then wanting gun control. Any gun can kill, but, a larger, more powerful, fully automatic gun can kill a lot faster then my single shot 22 caliber rifle. So, there should probably be different regulations on those two guns.

    • Tony

      Really? Did you just compare Pit Bulls to automatic weapons? Obviously you need to do more research on the topic at hand.

      BSL has been around in Des Moines for over 25 years…and why? Nobody knows that answer other than a dog in California killed a kid and BSL was formed here. BSL does not stop dog bites. Never has never will. In fact BSL solves nothing other than making responsible dog owners have to jump through hoops to have their dog…that is if they can even have them.

      Watch Beyond the Myth on Netflix. See how Denver, Cincinnati, and Miami have handled enforcing BSL. Specially Denver.

      I want to see your facts on the statements you made. In fact I’ll show you that Pit Bulls have less strength than other dogs.

      National Geographic did several tests of bite force with numerous animals, including dogs and wolves, to see which had the strongest jaws and the worst bite. Not surprisingly, the wolf was the canine with the most powerful bite, measuring 406 pounds of pressure. A wolf can, when it is protecting itself, inflict a bite that carries up to 1,200 pounds of pressure.

      The top five domesticated breeds thought to have the strongest jaw are all large dogs known for their bite. They are generally the same breeds attributed with the highest rate of attacks on people, and they are often listed as dangerous dog.

      Pit Bull

      The Pitbull has become a breed synonymous with strong jaws, biting and danger. While this dog does not have the highest bite force of the dogs National Geographic tested, it is one of the top four. The Pitbull bite was measured at 235 pounds of pressure. It is the most highly recognized breed for jaw and bite strength.

      German Shepherd

      Although the German Shepherd was originally bred as a herding dog, it has been used as a guard and police dog with good reason. This is a powerful and intelligent breed. The German Shepherd’s bite measured 238 bite force, just slightly above the Pitbull.


      The Rottweiler, or Rottie as it is often called, has a huge head and large jaws. This breed bit with 328 pounds of pressure. The Rottweiler is considered the second most dangerous breed of dog; the Pitbull is number one.


      The Doberman is a highly energetic dog that can be very aggressive. The bite force is reputed to be 600 pounds of pressure; however that seems to be largely unsubstantiated.


      Many breeders say that the Mastiff has the strongest jaw. Reportedly, the Mastiff has a bite force of 552 pounds. If true, this would make it stronger than any other domesticated dog on record.

      So show me your facts to back up your statements. Specially how they have to be handled differently.

    • christine pardee

      Sue, its always positive when citizens care enough about an issue to take their time to share thoughts regardless of what side of an issue they are on. You shouldn’t apologize for having an opinion. I agree with you 100% in that its necessary to handle dogs differently ~ based upon that individual dog, not its breed. I agree with you 100% that male dogs (and females) should be neutered /spayed. DSM4BreedNeutral is advocating for responsible dog ownership and the repeal of an ordinance that penalizes good owners and innocent dogs while imposing very strict penalties and fines on irresponsible dog owners ~ the types of owners you mention below that get a dog as an “extension of their ego”. Since you know first hand that not all pit bull owners fall into this group, do you think its fair to have a law in place that penalizes the good dog owners and good dogs? We don’t believe that denying due process for dog owners such as your family member you say has a good pit bull is something that should stay on the books as a City Ordinance in Des Moines.

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