Pit bull ordinance under attack in Lindsborg

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LINDSBORG, Kan. (SJ) -

A police officer found a large black-and-white dog running loose Nov. 6 and picked him up. The dog looked like a pit bull to the officer, so the dog has been banned from Lindsborg.

Angie Mitchell, who owns Marley, said her dog had gotten out of her yard through a broken gate that usually was blocked. The energetic dog was running around the neighbor’s new lawn and tore it up. The neighbor called the police.

Lindsborg City Administrator Greg DuMars said the city’s police officers are charged with animal control and have responsibility for making decisions about dog types. To appeal the officer’s decision, the owner will have to go to municipal court, he said.

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Marley has been staying with Anne D’Andrea, owner of Lazy D Boarding Kennel, since Nov. 22 while Mitchell has been fighting city hall to get him back. He had been with friends and in another kennel until then.

The 3-year-old neutered male was registered with the city for the past two years, the first year as a mixed breed, the second as a terrier, Mitchell said. She also said that when she got Marley as a 6- to 8-month-old puppy, she called city hall to ask if there were any banned breeds and was told there were not.

D’Andrea has mounted a campaign to get the Lindsborg city ordinance banning pit bulls changed. One of her Facebook posts about Marley has reached almost 3,000 people.

She said there were no complaints about Marley: He’s not aggressive; he’s never bitten anyone, not even anyone trying to take a tennis ball out of his mouth. Mitchell said the same – no complaints, never a sign of aggression around other dogs, puppies or children.

“This dog should not be here,” D-Andrea said flatly.

Amanda Opat and Andrew Farrar at Puttin’ on the Dog pet groomers said customers filled two pages of a petition to let Marley go home.

Opat said she doesn’t have problems with pit bulls. She said she’s more likely to be bitten by Dalmatians, dachshunds, miniature Schnauzers and Chihuahuas.

The Lindsborg City Council will meet at 5:30 p.m. today to study the city’s pit bull ordinance, DuMars said. He said he doesn’t know how those eight people will vote, but changing the ordinance is not on the agenda for the regular 6:30 p.m. meeting. Council members could vote to let Marley go home without changing the ordinance, DuMars said.

The ordinance, passed in 1988, defines a pit bull is any one of a bull terrier and American Staffordshire terrier breeds of dogs; a dog of mixed breed or of another breed than listed which breed or mixed breed is known as pit bulls, pit bull dogs or pit bull terriers; or any dog which has the appearance and characteristics of being predominantly of any other breed commonly known as pit bulls, pit bull dogs or pit bull terriers; or a combination of any of these breeds.

D’Andrea said that description matches half the dogs in Lindsborg illegal.

“They have to do something about this ban,” D’Andrea said. “You cannot condemn a breed because of irresponsible people, and you can’t condemn a dog because of the way he looks, especially when he’s done nothing wrong.”

A certified animal behaviorist, Melissa Shyan Norwalt — who formerly taught psychology at Bethany College and now lives in Indiana — said Marley looks to her like a boxer-Boston terrier mix, although it is hard to tell just by looking.

DuMars said that makes no difference: Since Marley looks like a pit bull, he is one, in the eyes of the city. A pit bull is not a specific breed, but a type, D’Andrea and DuMars agreed.

“The point is that ‘bully’ breeds, and there are several, cannot be discerned by eye,” Shyan Norwalt said. “So the law is unfair. There is research showing that bully breeds are no more dangerous than others, too.”

Salina also has an ordinance banning pit bull types, passed in 2004. The Salina Animal Shelter uses a checklist of 32 characteristics to score an animal, said Vanessa Cowie, animal services manager. More than one officer will score the animal.

Shyan Norwalt said lots of dogs look like pit mixes but have none of the bully breeds in them. Cowie mentioned an American bulldog and boxer mix as an example of a dog that looks like a pit bull but is not.

Salina also has an administrative avenue to dismiss the case, Cowie said.

“We want to be absolutely sure,” Cowie said, “because you’re taking someone’s dog.”

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