Since 1987, Liberty, Missouri, has prohibited its residents from owning pit bulls. In recent years, animal rights organizations have pressured lawmakers and citizens to repeal breed-specific legislation. Liberty voters obliged when they went to the polls April 2, with the new ordinance passing by just 133 votes.
The Liberty vote took place amongst a broader movement to repeal breed bans.
“As major animal rights groups like the ASPCA have begun fighting the bans alongside smaller organizations, repeals have become more common, both nationally and locally,” according to KCUR. “By now, 23 cities in Missouri and 26 cities in Kansas have repealed their bans.”
This slim margin highlights the still relevant debate centering around public safety and animal ownership rights. Supporters of upholding the pit bull ban argue that the dogs are genetically dangerous and put communities where they live at risk. However, others point out that scientific information supporting this claim is wanting.
“The scientific consensus on the topic of breed-specific risk is clear – multiple peer-reviewed studies have concluded that a dog’s breed does not determine risk and that breed-specific legislation is ineffective,” according to a nonprofit research organization.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has determined that data comparing bite rates is largely unreliable – as most bites go unreported.
Breed-specific legislation is also problematic because it judges dogs via an appearance-based approach, often including those who may be a mixed breed.
“Animal control and legislative approaches to protecting a community from dangerous dogs should not be based on breed, but instead on promoting responsible pet ownership and developing methods to rapidly identify and respond to owners whose dogs present an actual risk,” stated the AVMA.
Liberty has altered its dangerous dog ordinance to reflect this idea, judging the behavior of dogs on a scale and holding owners accountable.
“The ordinance also outlines consequences for owners, and their dog, if they are found to be dangerous through the courts,” reports Fox4 News. “They range from high levels of insurance, mandatory micro-chipping, sterilization, to humane euthanization.”
The pit bull ban and its repeal will mean a change for the Liberty community – including William Jewell College’s own assistant professor of biology, Nathan Jud. Jud is in his first year of teaching at Jewell. He and his wife adopted a black pit bull mix named Caroline while living in another state.
“Soon after I accepted the job at William Jewell College, we found out about Liberty’s breed ban, so we decided to live in Kansas City,” Jud said. “Now I commute about 25-30 minutes each way. I was very disappointed by the ban. I was looking forward to life in Liberty and being part of the community – but we didn’t want to risk losing our dog.”
Proponents of lifting the ban have strongly advocated judging animals by their behavior. Cognizant of the fears and stigma against pit bulls, Jud emphasized prioritizing training.
“I understand that some people are afraid of large dogs, or of bully breeds, or dogs that look like pit bulls,” Jud said. “That is why we have been thoughtful about training, respecting leash laws, and communicating with people about the appropriate way to meet any new dog when they meet Caroline.”
Jud articulated his support of the repeal, saying that enforcing rules about responsible pet ownership is a better approach to public safety than banning a breed that has not been proven to be more dangerous than others.
“I’m glad the ban was lifted and we may consider a place in Liberty now that we don’t have to worry about losing our dog, but moving is a hassle and we will watch the news in Liberty to see the community response the lifted ban,” Jud said.