By ELLY GRIMM
• Leader & Times
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part one of the story recapping Tuesday evening’s meeting of the Liberal City Commission. This part will cover the conversation that took place regarding the pit bull ban currently in place in the community, and the next part will cover discussion of development in North Liberal.
There are pit bull bans in place in many cities in the U.S., and Tuesday night, the Liberal City Commission discussed the ban in place in the city, which has been in place since 1989.
To begin the discussion Tuesday evening, Liberal Police Department Chief Al Sill presented some statistics and other information to the commission regarding this issue, having been asked to do so during a commission meeting several weeks ago.
“You can probably get on the Internet and find a lot of information both for and against pit bull bans, but it really comes down to the safety you want to create in the community you live in,” Sill said. “There are a number of cities across the country that ban pit bulls, and one of the things I want you to pay attention to in making your decision is the in-house statistics and national statistics. In one of the pie charts provided, titled ‘DogsBite.org,’ that is data extracted from throughout the country in a period of study from 2005 to 2015, and as you’ll see, in the fatalities that occurred during that period, 64.4 percent of those occurred as a result of pit bulls. It’s exponentially higher than any other dog on there, and I’ll point out it’s a national statistic that labrador retrievers are probably the most popular family dog in the country. Yet, you don’t see them listed as one of the specific dangerous breeds, so my concern with that is if cities across the country started lifting their bans more and more, you see a rise in the population of pit bulls across the country.”
Sill then spoke of some of the LPD’s in-house statistics.
“From 2012 to 2016, our in-house data shows we had no fatalities, and we only had five pit bull dog bite cases within the city, and I would have to attribute that to the fact we have a ban,” Sill said. “And if we lift that ban, I’m afraid our statistics are going to go exponentially higher. Now, the reason our in-house statistics show only from 2012 to 2016 is because if you’ll remember, we implemented Spillman in the last quarter of 2011, so since that was an incomplete year, and since 2017’s an incomplete year, we’re showing only the full years we have.”
Sill also talked about the number of citations issued with pit bull cases, and pointed out statistics of animal bites.
“Of the five bite cases with pit bulls we’ve had, none of those were fatalities,” Sill said. “I’ll also point out, in talking with other officers recently, they had a pit bull case where the dog busted through the door of its residence, ran to the next door residence, busted through the door there, and while the lady was inside, that dog killed her family pet. It didn’t just kill it, it also mauled it pretty viciously. The Animal Control officers were able to capture this animal, and they have ardently said this was the most vicious animal they’ve ever had to deal with in their history of all the animals they’ve dealt with. The animal finally had to be put down, but they couldn’t even control this animal without sedating it first. Ironically, this animal also ran past three children playing in the front yard in order to get to this other house and bust through the door. So if you get an animal that vicious, and its attention is diverted or focused on humans, that’s a serious situation to have on our hands.”
Sill concluded by saying he feels the ban should remain in place.
“I’ve not been presented with any information or arguments to lift the ban, and until we receive some information that makes reliable sense, I see no reason to move forward and lift this ban,” Sill said. “It’s in effect now, why do we need to lift it?”
After Sill said his piece, Liberal citizen Gary Cherry came before the commission.
“I’m here to address this issue as a whole in reference to pit bulls and dogs of a particular look that have been discriminated against,” Cherry said. “What the chief stated in regards to the number and percent of bite cases, fatalities, what have you, throughout the country, what is not fact is whether or not these dogs were indeed pit bulls. There are more than 100 municipalities that have rescinded and gotten rid of the laws banning specific breeds based on looks. Worldwide, there have been numerous accusations that certain dogs involved in certain attacks were pit bulls, but were in fact later proven to be boxer mixes or mastiff mixes, or American bulldogs. A large number of breeds have similar characteristics to the pit bull, and have nothing to do with the pit bull ... and in a lot of these cases, dogs with certain jaw structures or certain brindle colors or other characteristics, they immediately call it a pit bull. Several supreme courts have overturned these specific bans based on the fact that there’s no 100 percent scientific proof pit bulls are any more dangerous than any other breed out there.”
Cherry then discussed some of the research he had done on his own regarding the issue, and agreed owners must be held accountable.
“I agree wholeheartedly if any animal acts out in a manner, like with the situation you referred to with the dog busting through the door, and I am familiar with that situation,” Cherry said. “The dog did run into the house, but it didn’t bust through the door, the door was open, the dog ran into the house and attacked another dog. As the chief mentioned, it ran past three other children. Dog on dog aggression can hardly be deemed the same as viciousness, and two males from any breed will engage in conflict, that’s alpha mentality. I think it’s misleading to the public and the citizens to assume because we have this breed-specific ban, that’s going to keep the community safe. I can guarantee right now more than half the people in this city are more concerned with the drug epidemic with rising methamphetamine, the crime that follows than having a specific breed as a pet. I’m more worried about a meth addict kicking in my door than I am of someone’s pit bull or other pet latching onto me.”
Cherry presented some other information, and then Liberal Mayor Joe Denoyer spoke up.
“Garden City recently rescinded its ban, and recently, there was a young boy walking home from school and then was mauled and bitten in the head by a pit bull,” Denoyer said. “Then there’s the case of Piper Dunbar, who was 2 years old, and playing in her front yard in September and killed by a pit bull. I know there are statistics on both sides of the argument, and I can find them. I did a survey here in town, because I knew it was on the agenda, everyone I talked to, I asked if they would like to see the pit bull ban repealed, and they all said no. Now, one lady I talked to said she didn’t like how it was breed-specific, but when I asked her, in raising her two girls, if she would like a pit bull in her neighbor’s yard, she said no. The numbers are out there, anyone can find them, but it’s about the reality of what’s happening not only in the state but in the U.S. with pit bulls.”
Denoyer also pointed out how there are some communities who had rescinded their bans are now thinking of reinstating them because of recent events. After some more discussion, the commission ultimately voted to uphold the ban with a vote of 4-1, with Commissioner Jack Carlile voting no. The commission also praised Cherry’s presentation Tuesday evening and his work regarding this issue.
“I will agree the pit bull can be more aggressive when it comes to ... but I feel a lot of that has to do with how they’re raised,” Carlile said. “Do I feel sorry for the people who died? Yes, I do. But I also remember an incident when a German Shepherd in my neighborhood nearly killed its master when I was growing up. As far as the ordinance goes, it’s too vague, and I have a problem with that now.”
“I did a lot of research, I looked at a lot of what Chief gave me, and I was on the fence, I really was,” Commissioner Dean Aragon added. “But my decision comes from the statements made by families who raised pit bulls forever and were part of the family until they turned vicious. There are several stories out there, and I would never want to be responsible for if something like that, it’s too much of a gamble.”