Equal opportunity triumphs over safety with new dog ordinance

By BEVERLY JOHNSON,

To the Editor:

Kosciusko recently enacted a new city ordinance, “Ordinance Regulating Dangerous Dogs.”  This new ordinance repeals the former ordinance, Section 5-26. addressing the keeping of vicious dogs in the city. The September 5th Star Herald printed the text of the new ordinance on pages B6-7. As stated there, the general purpose of the new ordinance is to “promote the public health, safety and general welfare of the citizens of the City of Kosciusko.” The September 12 Star-Herald published a brief news story announcing the new dog ordinance. This had statements by Mayor Cockroft on why he thought this new ordinance was necessary.  On Breezynews, however, the Mayor stated he primarily likes the new ordinance because it is “cleaner” for the City and Animal Control. 

Why is the new ordinance “cleaner?” It is cleaner because it completely divorces the City and Animal Control from any duty and responsibility whatsoever to preemptively protect citizens from dangerous or vicious dogs.  The City attorney apparently gets a cleaner ride as well, which the Mayor pointed out in the September 12th Star Herald.  Divorcing itself of preemptive responsibility for public safety may make things cleaner for the City, but how does this new ordinance really play out for public safety in Kosciusko? Additionally, why is the Mayor so convinced that the new ordinance really is cleaner? Who convinced him?

Under the previous ordinance, the City preemptively protected the public from vicious dogs. It was a breed specific law (BSL) designed to protect the public from dogs genetically inclined to dangerous aggression. The existence of this genetic predisposition is well documented. The ordinance imposed strict requirements on dog owners who wanted to house these breeds. Included were pit bulls, wolf hybrids, dobermans, rottweilers, and guard and attack dogs. The City required that such dogs had to be housed under conditions designed to insure public safety. For example, escape proof confinement was mandated. Cages had to be child proof. Dogs could not be allowed to sit unleashed on a screened porch, for example, where they might easily break out and inflict harm on passers by. Muzzling and firm leashing were required when the dog was taken onto city streets, sidewalks, or into parks. Notice that this ordinance did not ban the ownership of any dog, it simply regulated that owners heed public safety.

The City has now repealed all regulations to preemptively protect city residents from vicious dogs. What prompted the City to do this?  Opposition to BSLs arose when such laws were first enacted, which many cities and even states did. Without sounding like a conspiracy theorist, however, it is factual that much of this opposition  arose from a concerted, organized, well funded, and highly motivated group of individuals.  Their persistent task has been to sway public opinion and convince state and local governments to abolish BSLs. Mayor Cockroft is not the first to fall for their wiles and devious methods. As the Star Herald indicated, other cities have repealed their BSLs as well.  Now this may raise a chuckle of doubt, but this group of dedicated individuals opposed to BSLs is known as the “American Pit Bull Lobby.”  It prides itself on successfully agitating for the repeal of BSLs. Even veterinarians have joined their throng as have associations against cruelty to animals. Their tactics though have been likened to the tactics of Big Tobacco, for example, buying their own research studies, never admitting the truth, hiring PR firms, and distorting science. 

It took an extreme level of investigative journalism to fully expose the tentacles of this lobby and the energy and funding it applies to generate propaganda opposing BSLs.  La Presse, a Canadian newspaper, accomplished this task, however. The expose is documented on dogsbite.org. One participant in the lobby is an organization called “Animal Farm Foundation,” It is funded by an American millionaire, but the foundation is also active in Canada. Its logo is a pit bull whose neck is wrapped in an American flag.  Their motto is “securing equal treatment and opportunity for pit bull dogs.” They even equate pit bull regulation with racism. The person behind this organization also directs a “National Canine Research Council” which produces contrived research  to support opposition to BSLs.                       

Within this framework of intensive lobbying against BSLs, with mis-information, fake research, and propaganda abounding, the International Association of Municipal Lawyers began advising cities to repeal such laws. The Mayor indicated on BreezyNews that this organization provided him with a template for a new ordinance, one which allows the City to divorce itself from the difficulties and costs involved in enforcing BSLs.  

Of course, the pit bull lobby primed the pump. It has generously made available fake research showing that the cost of maintaining BSLs is extremely burdensome on city budgets, especially because BSLs may trigger lawsuits, a fact the Mayor apparently mentioned to the Star Herald. The lobby even promulgated distorted legal opinions, which went unchallenged by attorneys with more on their minds than dogs. One of these distorted legal opinions by the lobby was a claim that BSLs had been found unconstitutional, certainly enough to spend shivers up the spine of any small town municipal attorney.  The truth is that BSLs have almost universally been upheld as constitutional by courts, except in cases of extremely badly written ordinances, which is true of any legislation.

Thus Kosciusko came to abolish its BSL, designed to promote public safety.  The public now has no preemptive protection against pit bulls, dobermans, rottweilers, and wolf hybrids.  Kosciusko’s BSL didn’t even ban particular breeds, unlike all U.S. military installations which have flat out banned dangerous dog breeds from housing. All credible statistics indicate that the pit bull is responsible for more human fatalities and unprovoked aggressive behaviors than any other dog breed, with dobermans and rottweilers in the running.  Cities with reliable statistics have documented the benefit of BSLs, although the pit bully lobby tries to argue away these instances. Additionally, even if pit bull owners assert that it just isn’t true about their “baby” being dangerous (or as the Mayor said, “not ALL pit bulls bite), no sane person would ever argue this about a wolf hybrid. Pit bull aggression, even when the dog is socialized, can be unpredictably triggered, especially by children, making them the most frequent victims. Wolf hybrids on the other hand can simply be unpredictable from the get go, especially as they mature. In some states they are regulated as wild animals and not dogs and experts on dog breeds and ownership discourage them as pets.  

In the new ordinance, what replaces the provisions for public safety in the old ordinance?  A bald answer is “Nothing.” Kosciusko now will have no regulations to preemptively protect the public from dangerous or vicious dogs. The City’s new ordinance considers pit bulls, dobermans, rottweilers, and the wolf hybrid to be just like any other dog. As the mayor said on BreezyNews, BSLs don’t  allow for the fact that a chihuahua could be dangerous so why have a BSL which picks only on dogs like the pit bull.  Yes indeed, voluminous statistics abound on the large number of fatal human maulings by a chihuahua. The new ordinance also rests on the  assumption that socially responsible dog owners, regardless of what breed  they own, would never own dogs that bite, attack, maul and fatally injure people. Likewise the City is assuming that any breed of dog could exhibit severe aggression, if the owner is socially irresponsible. 

The new ordinance is rather like a law saying that the City will now allow everyone and anyone to drive drunk, and no policing will be done to stop drunk driving.  After all, not all drunk drivers have accidents or kill people, so only those who actually do so should be punished.  Furthermore, even non drunk drivers have accidents and kill people, so how is it fair to single out drunk drivers ahead of time. As pit pull defenders say, “My doggie never bit or killed anyone.” Put that in the category of, “My daddy drove drunk all his life and never hit or killed anyone.”  

The stance behind the new ordinance is highly impregnated with the propaganda churned out by the pit bull lobby. Furthermore, how reliable is it for citizens to trust that “social responsibility” by fellow citizens will keep them safe from vicious dogs, rather than a preemptive city ordinance. Is littering of public streets, driving while intoxicated, driving without a licence or insurance, committing domestic violence, petty shoplifting, and wanton destroying of public property an indicator of how socially responsible some persons in Kosciusko might be when housing a wolf dog or a 100 pound doberman.

So, what happens now if a citizen has an encounter with a vicious dog. Under the old ordinance the probability of this happening was reduced by requiring special restraints. Now it will be more  likely that a vicious dog will escape and become loose. Everyone in Kosciusko already knows how ineffective enforcement of the current leash law is, with loose dogs being a constant plague to runners and walkers.  With protecting restraints lifted, will vicious dogs now be roaming neighborhoods more frequently? Recently, my neighbor’s child on her first day of school was surrounded by a pack of four or five loose dogs at her school bus stop. She became afraid, fled home, and missed the bus. A pit bull might have run after her and ripped out her throat. 

Intelligent persons discussing the repeal of BSLs have stressed that such a repeal, if it occurs, must be accompanied by an even stricter and firmer enforcement of leash laws, or otherwise, public safety will be jeopardized. Did the City Council even think of this?  I didn’t hear the Mayor announce anything like that onBreezyNews or see it conveyed it in his Star Herald interview.  All I heard is that he is happy that it will be easier and cleaner for the City.  Cleaner for the City, however, doesn’t mean cleaner for the public safety and welfare, especially with no mention made of stricter leash law enforcement. While the new ordinance provides equal opportunity for all dog breeds to be declared dangerous, it puts the public at increased risk because a loose dangerous biting pit bull is certainly far more dangerous than a loose biting poodle, possibly fatally so. For the elderly or children, it may be the difference between having a jugular vein ripped out and a severe ankle bite.

What about getting the City to actually declare a dog dangerous or vicious?  It is all now post hoc, after the deed, not preemptive as before. The City first needs a victim.  The public has to give the City a victim.  If a member of the public is bitten, but only if the skin is broken or punctured, a written complaint to the city must be provided, with evidence. The City will then contemplate  whether the dog is dangerous. To contemplate whether a dog is vicious, the City requires that a victim supply evidence that a “serious physical injury” was inflicted, disfigurement for example, or impairment of a body organ. Again, is a loose poodle or a loose pit bull statistically more probable of creating a victim who can provide such evidence to the City. Why make the public bear this price to avoid offending the pit bull defenders?

The new ordinance is thus an instance where equal opportunity for pit bulls, rottweilers, dobermans and wolf hybrids has triumphed over public safety, as well as triumphing over commonsense. Who honestly believes a pit bull is no more dangerous to public safety than a poodle, even a mean one.  And as for wolf hybrids, Alaska outright bans them as do many other states, and under MS state law they are considered as “inherently dangerous to humans.” See Miss. Code Ann. § 49-8-5. Did the City even consider this before repealing all public safety regulations on wolf hybrids? I don’t think so. Where was the City Attorney in discussions of the repeal? Shouldn’t he have known state law.  Furthermore, examine the incidences of pit bull aggression already documented in 2019, available at the website for “national pit bull victim awareness” or at dogsbite.org.  Look at the pictures of disfigured children and weep. Thumbs up for the aggressive tactics of the pit bull propaganda lobby and thumbs down and shame on City government for sacrificing public safety to have it cleaner and easier on themselves.

Beverly E. Johnson

Kosciusko