Dog lovers are rallying against a bill that would allow cities to ban any breed of dog.
The Central Oklahoma Humane Society is against the measure and an online petition to Gov. Mary Fallin on change.org to oppose it has gotten more than 4,700 signatures in less than five days.
Sherry Stinson, who owns a pit bull terrier she rescued three years ago, said she started the petition effort because the proposal is an attempt to outlaw pit bull terriers.
“It's a backdoor way to ban pit bulls,” said Stinson, of Bartlesville.
Sen. Patrick Anderson said cities should have the right to restrict certain breeds if they determine them to be a threat. Legislators convene Feb. 4 for the first session of the 54th Oklahoma Legislature.
“If they don't want poodles, I guess they can bring it before the city council and vote not to have poodles,” said Anderson, R-Enid.
While his measure isn't breed-specific, Anderson said he is leery of pit bull terriers.
“Pit bulls make me nervous,” he said. “I wouldn't want them around my children. My bill's not designed to go after any breed in particular, but my personal feeling about pit bulls is I wouldn't own one.”
There is no ban on pit bull terriers in Oklahoma.
Efforts to ban pit bull terriers in 2006 failed; a state law passed in 2006, however, does define dangerous and potentially dangerous dogs and sets punishment for owners who fail to restrain them.
Anderson said he's already heard from critics of his measure, Senate Bill 32, including owners of pit bull terriers who say it's not the dog, but the owner, that causes the problem.
“I don't doubt their sincerity in that, but clearly we have an obligation to protect citizens, and if a community feels like they need to pass a city code or ordinance to protect their citizens, they need to be able to do that before someone is injured or even killed,” he said.
The Central Oklahoma Humane Society will oppose Anderson's measure, said Christy Counts, the organization's president and executive director.
“We definitely oppose that legislation,” she said. “Research has shown over and over and over again the most common predictor of bites by dogs has more to do with the spayed and neutered and tethered than the actual breed. If a dog is spayed or neutered and it's part of the family, the likelihood of severe aggression is very low.”
Dogs that are chained or tethered develop what is called barrier frustration, a lack of socialization that increases aggression and the likelihood of an attack, she said.
Enforcing breed bans would be difficult because bloodlines of many dogs are murky. DNA tests might be required to prove a dog's breed, she said. Some dogs only have a percentage of a breed and it's unclear whether they would be included.
“There's just no real way to regulate that type of legislation. Specific behavior of an individual dog is a better predictor of future behavior.
“Research has shown that with the new DNA tests of dog breeds that a lot of times people assume a dog is a pit bull, for example, but when you do a DNA test there's not a drop of pit bull in it. For you to actually be able to uphold any of this in a court of law you'd have to DNA test all these dogs,” Counts said.
Anderson said he didn't think that would be a problem.
“If a city does this and then they try to enforce it, then sure they might run into that issue, but that's going to be a decision that a local community needs to make and I don't think it's directly relevant to my legislation at all,” he said.
Anderson said his proposal would allow city officials to deal with dog breeds the same way they handle other animals. For example, the Norman City Council last year passed an ordinance allowing residents to own laying hens but it prohibits roosters.
“I don't think that there's really a difference between banning a certain breed of dog versus banning a certain type of chicken,” Anderson said.
Stinson's petition says Anderson's bill goes against America's values.
“In America, every citizen who follows the safety rules as a responsible dog owner should be allowed to own whatever breed of dog he or she chooses,” it states.
Stinson, who rescued her pit bull terrier, Xena, about three years ago, said she would like lawmakers to consider beefing up penalties for dog owners who abuse their animals.
“If we would stop the cruelty that we see going on — the chains, the people who think it's OK to just dump it out and leave it,” she said. “It's not just pit bulls. It's responsible dog ownership that will stop the problems you have and enforcement of current laws that are already on the books.”
Under the proposal, cities could ban a dog breed even if that breed wasn't involved in an attack or any hostile behavior.
“This just would give local control to the communities to decide if they didn't want a certain breed of dogs in their community,” Anderson said. “It is not specifically about pit bulls. It's about giving local government the ability to put restrictions on what type of animal is housed in their community.
“All we're doing is allowing the local cities and towns to make those decisions on a local level,” he said. “We've had situations where children and adults have been severely injured or killed by certain breeds of dogs. If a community is concerned about that and don't want those types of dogs in their community, they ought to have the right to speak out on that and keep those animals out.”
Stinson said the media have tarnished the breed's reputation.
“A pit bull attack makes headlines, it makes the six o'clock news; a Labrador attack doesn't,” she said. “It creates an atmosphere of fear. … Any dog can bite. And if a dog is not trained, if it's not socialized, if it's not taught, then what do you expect?”
Molly Gibb, of Oklahoma City, who uses her pit bull terriers for search and rescue and patient therapy work, said Anderson's proposal is a step backward.
The American Bar Association last year urged the repeal of breed-specific provisions and instead focusing on the behavior of dog owners and dogs.
“We are seeing breed discriminatory laws being repealed,” she said. “They're being reversed because they don't work.”