By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
In February, the Seward County Commission passed a resolution banning the possession of pit bulls in the county. That resolution came 20 years after an original one was passed in 1991.
In the 1991 ordinance was included a grandfather clause that would allow pit bulls in the county to stay in the county, but none could be raised after that.
Monday, after a half hour discussion, the commission voted to revisit the resolution it passed in February. The talk began when county resident Gerald Valentine, who breeds pit bulls, asked the board if the new ordinance could include a grandfather clause similar to the one in the 1991 resolution, which was repealed through the current law.
Commission chairman Jim Rice said he had a problem with allowing such a clause because it would allow other people to have dogs as well.
“If we permit one, there are no doubt other pit bull owners in the county, and they’re going to be wanting the same treatment you have got,” he said. “I think they would deserve that. As a result of that, it would defuse the rules and regulations that the present resolution has. It was designed not to permit pit bulls in the county. If we allow one, we’re going to have to allow them all, and we’re going to be back to where we were originally.”
Valentine said he believes no one else still has dogs from 1991. Rice said findings from county counsel Dan Diepenbrock indicate the 1991 ordinance was intended for dogs rather than owners.
Commissioner Doug LaFreniere strongly suggested the board revisit the current resolution.
“I really struggle with breed. I think a dangerous dog ordinance, and I know Mr. Diepenbrock has stated it’s unenforceable as a dangerous dog ordinance, but I think we can,” he said. “This resolution just states a breed, and I think that’s the wrong thing to do.”
Valentine said there are good and bad dogs in all breeds.
“It’s not really the dog as much as it is the owner,” he said. “In 20 years, my record is spotless – not a complaint. I think that’s a good record. I think responsible ownership is what we need to look at instead of the dog.”
Commissioner C.J. Wettstein said that while the law was passed for safety reasons, pit bulls are not the only dangerous breed in Seward County.
Valentine said pit bulls were never bred to be a guard dog, but rather for fighting. He did say, however, they are family dogs.
“They will protect the family,” he said. “Any dog in the right environment will.”
Valentine said any dog can be made vicious.
“Pit bulls got a bad review in the press,” he said. “All the youngsters decided it was the cool thing to have. They tried to make them aggressive, and it’s worked.”
Commissioners Ada Linenbroker questioned Valentine’s intentions for the dogs.
“Right now, you have 19 dogs,” she said. “You have dogs right now that are pregnant that are going to be producing more dogs. What are you going to do with these dogs?”
“I give them to people in other states where it’s legal to have them,” Valentine said. “I’ve been breeding these dogs for 41 years. I know people all over the world with these breeds, not just in the United States.”
Linenbroker said if the current resolution is made permanent, she said Valentine should be able to find homes for the dogs.
“We weren’t asking you to put your dogs to sleep,” Linenbroker said.
Valentine still has dogs that are pregnant, and Linenbroker asked him when he would stop producing dogs.
“That’s what I’ve done for 41 years, and I haven’t broken the law,” Valentine said. “There’s something wrong with this. There’s something wrong with what you’re trying to do here. If my dogs were running, chasing cattle or bit people, I understand you saying get rid of the dog or be a responsible owner, but I’m not the one that caused this trouble.”
Valentine said he was told by officials with the sheriff’s department that the pit bull problem was in the southeast part of the county.
“I live in the southwest part,” he said. “These dogs are not a threat. My neighbors signed a petition saying they weren’t.”
Diepenbrock said the decision is up to the commission, but he advised the board that if it was to revisit the issue, they need to do it as soon as possible.
“The resolution is clear,” he said. “It’s been clear since 1991, and Mr. Valentine is in violation of the resolution. I don’t think you want to put it off too long especially if the intent is to provide instant relief. You really can’t craft a resolution to let Mr. Valentine keep his dogs. If he’s going to keep them, everybody’s going to keep them.”
For this reason, Diepenbrock said the board has a couple of choices.
“The one option you can do is just repeal the resolution, and pit bulls are legal in Seward County,” he said. “Another option would be to add another grandfather clause to the resolution you adopted resolution that would grandfather the dogs and not the owner. Any dogs that would be alive at the time the grandfather clause is adopted could stay in Seward County, but you wouldn’t be permitted to continue to breed.”
Wettstein said if Valentine is allowed to keep his dogs, his breeding operation would need to be shut down. Valentine agreed with LaFreniere saying the only fair law would be one for vicious dogs.
Diepenbrock said the reason the 1991 resolution was passed was that research showed more pit bulls were involved in bites, fatal attacks and injury attacks than any other breed.
“They looked at total number of deaths or dog bites or injuries nationwide,” he said. “There were all kinds of dogs involved, but pit bulls, statistically, were the ones that were most likely to be involved in those.”
Diepenbrock said if a repeal of the current law is the decision of the commission, it should be done carefully and include much research. He said many communities have passed similar resolutions, and those have been attacked throughout the country.
“They’re claimed to be unconstitutional, and the courts almost unanimously have said no, they’re not unconstitutional because owning a dog is not a fundamental right,” he said. “If it’s not a fundamental right, the government just has to show a rational basis for the ordinance.”
Diepenbrock said the 1991 ordinance, including the grandfather clause, was crafted well, but county clerk Stacia Long strongly disagreed.
“Why are we here if it was well-crafted Dan?” she said. “We’re here because we have to address a resolution that was passed 20 years ago that apparently wasn’t well drafted.”
“It was in my opinion,” Diepenbrock said. “The confusion was the grandfather clause that the sheriff said people didn’t understand as Mr. Valentine didn’t, but it is clear.”
Sheriff Bill McBryde said the commission should revisit the resolution and either give a “yes” or “no” on keeping it in place.
“I don’t think you can grandfather because you can’t keep up with those dogs,” he said. “You don’t know who has what dog.”
The board voted 4-1, with Linenbroker voting against, to revisit the resolution. Wettstein suggested the commission make a decision one way or the other as soon as the next meeting on April 4.
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