The federal lawsuit filed last week isn’t the first attempt to get rid of Williston’s pit bull ban, but it exposes clearly why the City Commission should repeal the ordinance.
A total of 13 plaintiffs who used to or currently live in Williston are suing the city in federal court, claiming the ban is unconstitutional. Their attorneys laid out how each was affected by the ordinance, with some giving up their dogs, others moving away from the area and in one case, a family deciding giving away a 12-year-old dog would be too hard on the animal and having it euthanized.
The stories are individually very affecting. They give a glimpse of the emotional pain the separation caused, cloaked in dry legal language.
“The Pit Bull Ban has thereby deprived Plaintiffs of the comfort, companionship, and sense of security that their dogs provide them and subjected Plaintiffs to a reasonable concern that their property may be destroyed and euthanized under the Pit Bull Ban,” one part of the suit reads.
Taken collectively, the stories show exactly why the ban is not only pointless, but unjust.
Multiple stories in the suit tell of dogs taken after a chance encounter with a neighbor or an anonymous tip phoned into police. The arbitrary nature of that means it’s impossible to know how many pit bulls might actually live in the city but just hadn’t been reported.
What’s worse, in multiple cases the suit claims the dogs weren’t actually pit bulls and shouldn’t have been banned in the first place.
The reason that could happen is one of the most infuriating parts of the suit — and of the law in general. The enforcement of the law depends on the city’s police and animal control officers identifying whether an animal is a pit bull or not based on their experience and expertise.
In several cases, the suit claims, DNA tests provided by the owners were either ignored or not accepted in the first place. Those are just allegations, and the city hasn’t filed a response yet, but the claims jibe with ones made by other owners in stories the Herald has published.
The problem comes straight from the ordinance itself, with the final paragraph summing up dogs that are banned: “Any dog which has the appearance and characteristics of being predominantly of the breeds of bull terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, any other breed commonly known as pit bulls, pit bull dogs or pit bull terriers, or a combination of any of these breeds.”
The idea that anyone can tell the breed of an unfamiliar dog by sight or a list of characteristics is based on outdated science.
The arbitrary enforcement and overly broad language in the ordinance are both reason enough for the City Commission to act, but there is one much, much more important reason: Breed bans do nothing to make the public safer.
That’s the heart of the issue. Breed specific laws are based on junk science and demonize responsible pet owners. Organizations from the American Veterinary Medical Association to the American Bar Association and the National Animal Care and Control Association agree.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs’ attorneys quote from a statement made by the Humane Society of the United States.
“There is no evidence that breed-specific laws reduce dog bites or attacks on people, and they divert resources from more effective animal control and public safety initiatives. … Breed-based policies aren’t founded on science or credible data, but on myths and misinformation surrounding different breeds.”
Dog bites are a serious problem, but banning particular breeds of dog doesn’t help address that problem. Williston’s ban is an unjust, ineffective law based on bad science.
That shouldn’t require a federal lawsuit to be changed. And it doesn’t have to. The Williston City Commission can repeal the ordinance whenever it chooses. That should be a priority.