On Monday night, Roeland Park, KS, a first ring suburb of Kansas City, MO with a population of 6800 people, passed dramatic changes to its animal control laws.
Part of the law change was to repeal the city's 27 year old ban on pit bulls -- and this is the part of the law that has gotten the most attention -- from the media headlines to the public commentary.
But I think the focus of all of the attention on "pit bulls" has done a major disservice to the public commentary about public safety and effective animal control legislation, and that's too bad.
In the world of striving to be first with the news, and 7 second sound bites, a deep dive into the ordinance isn't something that is really getting done, well, anyway. But there were a lot of great provisions in this law, most designed to increase public safety, and all of that has gotten lost in the chatter about the BSL repeal. Below are some of the provisions that will make life better for animals in Roeland Park, and make the community safer:
1) A well-defined section on nuisance animals -- which protects residents from owners who's animals emit excessive noise, property damage, running at large, jump on, chase or injure another domestic animal.
2) A solid definition and restriction of "Dangerous animals" (regardless of breed) - as an animal that bites or injures a person or domestic animal.
3) A separate definition of "Vicious animals".
4) It allows members of the community to institute TNR for cats. Previously the city was paying for animal control enforcement to pick up cats and paying a daily hold fee at their shelter for feral cats. The city will no longer incur those costs.
5) Adding an entire section on tethering within the definition of animal cruelty -- including attaching chains directly to dogs without a proper collar, continuously tethering a dog for more than 1 hour, and the use of a chain, leash, rope, collaring device or tether that weighs more than 1/8 of the animal's body weight or is so heavy to inhibit free movement within the tethering area, or the tethering the dog in a manner that could cause injury, strangulation or entanglement.
I think when you look at the laws that were added, I think they do a particularly good job of INCREASING the ability of the public to protect themselves from potentially dangerous dogs -- regardless of breed or appearance. Also, the definitions of tethering within the cruelty section allow for dogs to be removed from a cruel tethering situation before a toddler unwittingly walks up to the dog -- which also increases public safety.
I think when you look at these provisions, it allows residents take a proactive response to potentially dangerous dog situation and irresponsible owners before a major incident occurs. It allows for them to take proactive steps regardless of the breed, or appearance of the dog. It also still allows them to target 'pit bulls' (or Chows, or Labradors) that might be potentially dangerous based on their actions -- without wasting resources on dogs or owners that are not a threat to the public.
It's a complete win/win.
Roeland Park is a small community, and a relatively safe one. But I suspect the new ordinance will continue to increase the quality of life for its residents. Several members of the city council and the community spent nearly a year working on this legislation and I really wish more of the focus would have been on the thoroughness and well-thought out nature of the changes, and not just solely on the pit bull ban getting repealed.
Yes, I'm happy about the ban being repealed. It needed to happen. I just wish the importance of the other elements hadn't gotten missed.
I really feel that if the changes had been fully explained by the media it could have opened up a far better dialogue on public safety, and what leads to animals being aggressive and a public safety risk. And it's disappointing that the opportunity was missed.
There is one other unfortunate thing that has come out of the media follow up is the need to cover "both sides" of the issue vs telling the story of what really happened at the public debate.
One example is from Fox 4. While their worst report isn't available online, they have several segments that are (I'm a bit forgiving of the Monday night newscasts for all the stations as the final vote happened about 20 minutes before they went on air).
In the Fox 4 report, they noted that while many people supported the repeal of the pit bull ban, "others were outraged at the decision". They interviewed one person who spoke in favor of the repeal. And one who opposed. Both sides represented. Fair. Balanced.
But here's the deal. The person they interviewed in opposition to the repeal was the ONLY citizen who testified against the repeal. At the meeting which housed the final vote, there were 13 people who stood up and testified in favor of the repeal. People who testified in favor of the repeal included 9 residents, a couple of animal welfare professionals, the director of the shelter that handles the city's animal control contract, a person who moved from the city because her dog was determined to be a pit bull, and the certified dog trainer who handles dog training classes at the city community center.
Only one person favored keeping the ban.
In an earlier testimony on the ordinance in November, 20 people testified in favor of the repeal. Only 3 opposed it (including the same individual who opposed it Monday night).
Councilwoman Megan England noted that she was "saddened and disappointed" in the council for approving an 11th hour amendment that would prohibit ownership of more than 1 pit bull without a permit until 2018. "Shame on us for thinking this was a controversial ordinance. We don't usually have this many people for an issue and it not be controversial...." noting that almost everyone who testified at both meetings and resident emails favored the change.
It just seems that in an effort to show "both sides" of the issue that the media missed the story about how the public forum was clearly and exceptionally one-sided, in total numbers, and in the expertise of those who presented.
And maybe in an effort to give "equal time" the media failed to give the public a clear picture of how overwhelmingly supported the new legislation was.
Congrats to the community of Roeland Park. You got it right. I just hope others can see that what was right about this went far beyond the breed ban repeal, and really is good for animals and humans in the community.