Senate File 143 would ban breed-specific legislation by cities and counties. It would not allow cities and counties to prohibit dogs based solely on breed. Cities and counties would be allowed to ban aggressive dogs, but not a specific breed.
Republican State Sen. Chris Cournoyer said she heard from a lot of people over the weekend regarding the bill.
Just about everyone who spoke on the bill spoke in support – but Cournoyer and her GOP colleague, Sen. Carrie Koelker wanted to hold off advancing the bill. Democrat State Sen. Claire Celsi was willing to support the bill.
Koelker said she received “numerous” phone calls from city council members and communities from her district.
“Every bill deserves a fair process,” she said. “That’s what we’re doing here.”
Emily Piper with Stray Dog Policy said the bill, at its heart, has nothing to do with dogs.
“What it does have to do with is whether or not local government can deny its citizens the right to own something that is otherwise perfectly legal,” Piper said. “A dog’s looks do not determine their behavior – studies by State Farm and by the American Veterinary Medical Association reinforce that.”
The behavior of dogs is instead determined by multiple factors, she said.
“I just ask that you not judge a dog’s behavior by his looks,” Piper said.
Colin Grace with Animal Rescue League of Iowa said energy should not be focused on breeds of dogs, but instead on irresponsible owners. A dog can be removed from an irresponsible owner, but Grace said that same owner can have another dog by 5 p.m. that day after going on Craig’s List and finding a new canine companion.
“When you focus on a breed, you also punish responsible owners of that breed,” he said.
Joe Stafford is the ARL’s Director of Animal Control Services. He was previously in Colorado where he saw firsthand the impacts of breed-specific legislation.
Stafford talked about the impact in one Colorado city between 2011-18. Approximately 79 dogs were removed. None of them had been directly involved in a single aggressive animal incident.
Dr. Randy Wheeler, executive director of the Iowa Veterinary Medical Association, said banning specific breeds can create a “false sense of security.”
Opposition to the bill came from the League of Cities. Daniel Stalder said removing the ability for locally elected officials to engage in meaningful conversations concerns the organization.
“Any piece of legislation which forces a city councilor or a mayor or city clerk to have to tell their constituent that ‘I can’t help you because the state won’t let me’ is of great concern to the League,” he said.
Stalder said the solution in Colorado didn’t come from the state legislature but discussions at the local level.
Amanda Knefley with the Cedar Valley Humane Society said some of the jurisdictions in the area have breed bans and that causes “kind of a nightmare situation.”
The bans are typically enforced by visual identification. She’s been there for 12 years, she said, and there is no evidence that bully breeds are more aggressive than any other breed.
“We have a litter of puppies that look to be very Saint Bernard,” she said. “We got a DNA test because they look so interesting and wanted to see what they were. We just got the results back. I don’t know if you can see this puppy right now, but this kiddo is predominately American Staffordshire Terrier. They can’t go to any community that has a breed ban.”
Christopher Collins is a police officer in Iowa. He said he’s the only officer in his department certified to investigate animal abuse and animal neglect cases. There are more than 200 officers in the department.
“I could not imagine trying to investigate the look of a dog where a veterinarian is 87 percent likely to get the dog breed wrong,” he said. “Breed-specific legislation targets minority and low-income populations almost 90 percent more than any other communities. I don’t think any prejudicial law in the state of Iowa or any state is good to have.”
Collins said that people on the city council in Aurora, Colorado frequently referenced Mexicans when discussing the ban in that community. That was their reasoning for wanting to not have pit bulls, he said.
In Anamosa, people continued to refer to “those people” when discussing dog owners.
“It wasn’t until the NAACP showed up to these meetings that city council members stopped referring to people as ‘those people,’” Collins said. “I can’t imagine what would happen if I, as a police officer, went into somebody’s home in the city I work for and took a dog based on how it looks. I would not attach my name to that as that is currently the only law that I know a breed of something is the reason I’m willing to take it.”
Some cities require a DNA test to prove the dog is not a pit bull.
“If you cannot afford that, the city will take your dog and you’ll never get to see the dog again,” Collins said. “I think that is largely prejudicial in nature.”
Matt Walsh, the mayor of Council Bluffs, spoke against the ban. He said he voted against the ban originally but now favors it.
“The ban has been successful,” he said. “It’s not the dog, it’s the dog owner. And, unfortunately, bully dogs attract the wrong type of owner. They are people who are statement owners who want a dog that will send a statement that they’re a tough guy with a tough dog.”
Celsi said it was a very interesting discussion and she didn’t have any comments. Celsi was willing to sign the subcommittee report.
Koelker said it was a good conversation.
“I’ve heard from a lot of my communities back home and they kind of consider it a local issue under home rule,” she said.
Cournoyer said it breaks her heart to sometimes hear these types of aggressive breeds attract a type of owners that aren’t necessarily responsible.
“It’s really disappointing to me as someone who has a dog who could be perceived as a pit bull or aggressive breed,” she said.
Cournoyer said she does not want to punish responsible dog owners who provide a caring, loving environment for their dogs.
“I got a lot of calls just this morning and throughout the day today from a lot of municipalities,” she said. “I’m willing to continue this conversation and potentially even schedule another subcommittee where we have more than 30 minutes to get everybody’s comments.”
There is a chance another subcommittee is scheduled on the bill.