By Grace Zokovitch St. Louis Post-Dispatch
JEFFERSON CITY — Members of a House committee started their day Thursday listening to the brutal details of dog attacks, with some lawmakers and witnesses making the case that aggressive canines can come in all shapes, sizes and breeds.
The often-riveting testimony came during a hearing on the latest bills aimed at banning breed-specific laws and regulations in Missouri.
The proposals, sponsored by Rep. Kent Haden, R-Mexico, and Rep. Ron Hicks, R-Defiance, specify that local governments can enact laws regarding dogs, but those laws cannot target any particular breed. Their bills would deny any breed-specific bans and regulations in the state.
Breed-specific legislation, most targeting pit bulls, has a long, controversial history, muddied by conflicting research and misinformation.
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Some research has tied such laws, as well as home insurance policies that charge higher premiums if certain dog breeds are on the property, to a history of media sensationalism surrounding certain dog breeds and racial housing discrimination.
Hicks told the House Local Government committee the issue was about property rights and that absent a clear threat to people’s safety, dogs can’t just be taken from their owners.
But others argued breed-specific legislation has been proven to increase overall safety in some areas.
Rep. Richard West, R-Wentzville, said as the owner of a dog kennel and a police K-9 officer, he believed the issue was “not that pit bulls are more apt to bite, it’s just what their bite does.” Sources differ on whether pit bulls’ bites are more dangerous than some other breeds.
An effective solution to address dog attacks, advocates argued, isn’t breed-specific legislation; it’s more targeted vicious-dog legislation.
Looking at only one type of dog, supporters said, ignores the broader issue of aggression in many types of dogs.
Committee members and witnesses traded dog attack anecdotes to make their cases for the most dangerous dogs, vividly describing dismemberment and carnage perpetrated by pit bulls, German Shepherds and others.
“I’ve run into vicious dogs of all breeds,” said Haden, who also works a veterinarian.
Vicious dog legislation, sponsors said, would target dogs based on reports and indications of aggression.
In 2017, Florissant overturned a breed-specific ban in favor of strengthening dangerous dog legislation, which includes provisions on registering dogs and spaying and neutering.
Several opponents of the legislation said these sorts of decisions should be made at the local level.
“I’ve always said we’re always all for local control,” said Rep. Randy Railsback, R-Hamilton, “until we want to take it away.”
Rep. Craig Fishel, R-Springfield, said that as a former local elected official, he found it offensive that state representatives thought they knew better how to keep his community safe.
Advocates countered that it would be more cost-effective and efficient to address the issue at the state level. One cited a model calculated by Best Friends Animal Society estimating that Missouri spent $8.9 million on enforcement of these laws.
“Instead of continuously wasting our finite resources without clear and convincing evidence that we are improving the safety of our neighborhoods, we should enact effective animal management strategies that center around basic laws and apply consistently to all dog owners,” said Cody Atkinson, Missouri state Director for the Humane Society of the United States.
The proposed laws are House Bill 1588 and House Bill 1657.
Originally posted at 4:45 pm Thursday, Jan. 27.