City Sued Over Pit Bull Ban

Two Sioux City, Iowa dog owners want their city’s ordinance banning pit bulls declared unconstitutional, claiming it violates their right to due process.

Jennifer Frost, who had to place her dog, Jake, with family in New York to comply with the ordinance, and a woman referred to as Jane Doe want an injunction prohibiting the city from enforcing the ordinance in the meantime.

The two women said in the suit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Sioux City, that the ordinance, passed in 2008, is enforced in an arbitrary, inconsistent and discriminatory manner, bans animals that are not harmful and does not ban animals that do pose a risk to harm other animals or humans.

According to the lawsuit, Frost and her family have lived in Sioux City since October, and they obtained Jake, a purebred Staffordshire bull terrier, in 2006 and Reba, a mixed-breed dog, in 2014.

Animal control officers picked up Jake near the Frost home earlier this year and informed the family that his breed was one of those banned in Sioux City, and that the dog would be subject to impoundment and being euthanized if the family kept him. Frost said that she gave Jake to relatives in New York after failing to find someone closer to Sioux City to take him.

Frost said in the lawsuit that she has concerns that the city could take similar action against Reba. Neither of her dogs has ever bitten or harmed anyone, the lawsuit said.

Doe, who is seeking anonymity for herself and her dog, “Daisy,” said in the lawsuit that her mixed-breed dog looks similar to Jake, and she is concerned that “Daisy” also could be subject to the pit bull ban. Doe and her family moved to Sioux City in June 2015 and obtained the dog in February.

The Sioux City Council passed the ordinance banning pit bulls and pit bull mixes within city limits in September 2008 because at that time a high number of dogs that had been declared vicious or at risk in the city were pit bulls or mixes. The ordinance was updated in 2009. In 2010, the council voted 3-2 to retain it.

In 2010, six dog owners whose dogs had been seized, declared vicious and were slated to be euthanized, sued the city in Woodbury County District Court. The dogs were returned to the owners after a judge ruled that the city had violated the owners’ due process rights during the hearings that determined the dogs were vicious and should be destroyed.

The city has streamlined the hearing process, city attorney Nicole DuBois said, and hearings now go before a judge rather than a city-appointed officer.

The ban prohibits city residents from having dogs that are at least 51 percent pit bull, but allowed owners to keep the dogs they already owned at the time of the ordinance’s passage as long as they registered them with the city.

The ordinance describes a pit bull as an American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier or any dog that looks like or has characteristics of being one of those breeds.

The new lawsuit said the American Veterinary Medical Association has said that national statistics on fatalities and injuries caused by dogs do not prove any breed is more dangerous than another.

The lawsuit said the city’s ban relies on visual identification of pit bulls and mixes and that the ordinance’s identification of the animals is “overly vague.” The suit also says an owner’s seven-day time limit to request a breed-determination hearing is too short and doesn’t give them enough time to respond to allegations. The ordinance also places the burden on the owner to prove that a dog is not a prohibited breed and does not provide owners with a way to receive a breed determination before the dog is seized. Only after the city impounds a dog can an owner contest the city’s breed determination, the suit said.

The threat of impoundment of their dog and associated fees keeps many dog owners from exercising their due process rights, the lawsuit said.

DuBois said Tuesday that the city had yet to be served with notice of the lawsuit, and she declined to comment because she had not yet seen it.

City manager Bob Padmore and Cindy Rarrat, owner and manager of Sioux City Animal Adoption and Rescue, which has a contract to provide the city with animal control services, were also named in the suit. Rarrat declined to comment. Padmore did not immediately return a call to the Journal.

Photo: Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal

Full Story: Sioux City Journal

Steven Latham

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