House Committee considers proposal to bar breed-specific local laws

A Missouri House Committee is considering barring local governments from having any ordinance or policy against specific breeds of dogs.  Backers say such laws are unfair and punish responsible owners.  Opponents say such local laws are needed to control threats frequently posed by some breeds.

Representative Ron Hicks (photo; Mike Lear, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 297 would allow local governments to have policies to control dogs, such as to prevent them from running at large, so long as they are not targeted at specific breeds.

“The bottom line here is they’re trying to tell us we can’t own pit bulls,” bill sponsor Ron Hicks (R-Dardenne Prarie) told the House Special Committee on Urban Issues.  “I own my property.  I own my home.  I own the land that my home sits on.  I don’t think I should be told that I cannot own a certain type of domesticated animal.”

Hicks told the committee he knows dogs are sometimes associated with dog fighting rings, drug dealing, or other illegal activities.

“We need to start punishing the individual for the crime that they do.  If they train an animal to attack or be violent then they should pay the price,” said Hicks.

“I’m not telling [local governments] they can’t have leash laws.  I’m not saying they can’t have fence laws.  I’m not saying they can’t create their own laws if a dog were to bite somebody and then quarantine it – things like that.  I’m simply asking that you allow me to own my dog and you allow me to be responsible for it.  If my dog breaks the law you come to me, just like if my child breaks the law you come to me,”  Hicks said.

Numerous pet owners and several organizations spoke in favor of Hicks’ legislation, while four people representing three groups, spoke in opposition.

Dana Strunk with the group Safety Before Dangerous Dogs argued that breed-specific laws are needed to offset owners who don’t take proper care of their animals.

“As Americans, Missourians have a right to live in a safe community.  They have a right to walk their dog down the street, work in their garden, ride their bike, and without fear of being attacked by a dog,” Strunk told the committee.  “If you prohibit [breed-specific laws] where will your constituents go who don’t want to live next door to a public safety threat?  Is it fair to force them to live in worry whether the owner is responsible or not?”

Executive Director Bob Baker with the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation said HB 297 is too broad.  He maintains that some breed-specific ordinances are actually good for the animals they target.

Baker told the committee Springfield and Kansas City shelters were once populated mostly by pit bulls that had been abandoned by owners, resulting in many of those dogs being euthanized.  Then those cities required that pit bulls be spayed or neutered.

“They were very, very successful.  Both Kansas City and Springfield reduced their shelter population of pit bulls by 50-percent,” said Baker.  “We wouldn’t want that to be overturned.”

Legislators on the committee questioned Baker’s data and his position that breed-specific ordinances benefited animals.  They asked him to provide more information to the committee.

The Missouri Municipal League opposes HB 297 saying dog regulations should be up to local governments.

The Committee has not voted on the bill.