As Kansas Citians narrow eleven mayoral candidates down to two in next week’s election, voters in Liberty, Missouri, will be casting an equally contentious vote — whether to repeal the city’s three-decade-old pitbull ban.
“The science and all the studies show that pitbulls are not the monstrous breed that has been portrayed by some of the media,” said Jessica McKinney, a member of Liberty Pitbull Alliance, which began lobbying the city council to repeal the ban three years ago.
Advocates of repealing pitbull bans say breed-specific legislation is outdated and arbitrary — that pitbulls are not more or less dangerous than any other dog. “There are lots of non-pitbull dog attacks, but they don’t usually get the coverage that pitbulls do,” said Kansas Citian and director of the Best Friends Animal Society, Brent Toellner.
Those in favor of upholding the bans are equally passionate, often citing personal experiences with pitbull attacks on children or other dogs.
Raymore resident Jamie Dial, who works with survivors of dog attacks, began fighting to uphold pitbull bans when her own dog was killed by a pitbull. She said the experience taught her that pitbulls’ threat lies in nature not nurture: no matter how well they are raised they are genetically dangerous dogs.
This position can be isolating, she says. “I see how people are blaming and shaming the parents [of victims] when in reality I feel like all they did was believe the hype… that pitbulls have to be raised wrong to be vicious.”
Dial said supporters of keeping the pitbull ban do not have the resources to fight the ballot initiative on the ground in Liberty.
Liberty is hardly the first city in the state to take up the issue. Eureka repealed its ban in mid-March, and Representative Ron Hicks has introduced a bill in the Missouri House that would prohibit all breed-specific legislation in the state.
But the issue remains controversial enough that Liberty’s city council declined to vote on it themselves. Liberty Mayor Lyndell Brenton said he wanted to let residents vote on the repeal because the council’s vote may not have been unanimous.
“We felt like the emotional nature of this particular issue would probably best be decided by the voters in the privacy of the voting booth,” he said, adding that many of the people the city heard from do not live in Liberty.
McKinney expressed frustration at the council’s refusal to vote on the issue themselves. “They chose to punt and let the citizens decide. Several of them made comments that it would be political suicide to repeal our pitbull ban, so no one was confident in that for political reasons.”
What has become a nation-wide debate over safety and animal rights has its origins in the Kansas City metro. Liberty and Overland Park, Kansas were two of the first US cities to ban the dogs in 1987. Overland Park was also home to one of the first cases challenging the legality of such bans in 1989.
Both Missouri and Kansas have some of the highest ban rates in the country. Before cities started repealing their bans, more than 100 cities in Missouri and 80 cities in Kansas had banned pitbulls.
But as major animal rights groups like the ASPCA have begun fighting the bans alongside smaller organizations, repeals have become more common, both nationally and locally. By now, 23 cities in Missouri and 26 cities in Kansas have repealed their bans.