City Seal of Clay Center

Here's an interesting fact you may not be aware of — when the city of Clay Center first became a city in 1875,  there were two things the city council put on the agenda as things that needed their immediate attention -- dogs and pool halls.

It's interesting, because in almost 150 years, Clay Center hasn't seemed to have made a whole lot of progress on the dog issue -- as dogs running at large and causing problems is still an issue.

It's an issue that isn't unique to Clay Center. Mayor Jimmy Thatcher told a couple of volunteers running the local CCARE shelter that the last time he was at a convention, he spent a great deal of time talking to other mayors about how they handle dogs and solutions to the problem.

A few years ago, the Clay Center City Council tried doing what many cities across the country have done by passing an ordinance banning breeds of dogs considered pit bulls and any mixes of those breeds. By banning certain breeds officers kept coming across as problem dogs, they hoped to reduce or even eliminate the problem.

But the experiment hasn't worked. As any pit bull owner will tell you, the most dangerous thing about pit bulls is their noxious flatulence. Properly cared for, the breeds that are considered pit bulls are no more dangerous than any other dog and we know from personal experience they make really good pets.

Advocates of pit bull bans says these breeds have a bite and an attack style that makes them particularly dangerous, because they have a tendency to not let go and shake when they bite, inflicting more damage than the typical dog. However, multiple studies have also indicated that breed-specific bans don't work, including one by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who decided to strongly oppose these kinds of bans. The CDC cited, among other problems, inaccuracy of  data on dog bites and difficulty in identifying dog breeds -- especially true of mixed-breed dogs.

Any dog can be dangerous if it's neglected, allowed to run loose or doesn't receive the care and attention of a responsible pet owner.  It's the owner, not the dog, who is the problem. Irresponsible pet owners have replaced their pit bulls with other dogs that are as much of a problem if they run loose; or they've ignored the dog ordinances all together.

Breed-specific laws are also expensive and difficult to enforce. In 2018, the council tossed around the idea of DNA testing of dogs because the ordinance is difficult to enforce without it. The committee that reviewed the proposal took no action to fix the vicious dog ordinance and it remains poorly enforced to this day. It makes no sense to continue to ban pit bulls if police aren't going to enforce it.

Last week, the council's Public Safety Committee learned what dog owners in the city already know -- vicious dogs are still a problem -- not because they are pit bulls (though a few are), but because their owners allow them to run at large and police haven't been doing much about it. Officers and the municipal judge have at times not held dog owners responsible because they feel sorry for them, because they are so poor they can't afford to make fixes to keep their dog fenced in, or because they're simply unwilling to address the problem.

That needs to change. The solution isn't to ban pit bulls; but to ticket dog owners who allow their dogs to run at large -- particularly the repeat offenders. Anyone who says police don't have time to deal with dogs should consider their long-standing mantra of "Serve and Protect." Is there a better way to protect the public from a dog attack than by writing a ticket for a dog running at large?

The city's vicious dog ordinance should continue to allow the court to remove a vicious dog regardless of the breed, especially after an attack or a bite. But it doesn't need to be breed-specific to accomplish that.

--Ryan D. Wilson