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.