Five years after upholding it, Prairie Village city council votes to repeal ban on pit bulls

The Prairie Village City Council on Monday voted to repeal its ban on pit bulls. The number of Shawnee Mission area cities that still have an outright ban on the breed on their books has been in decline in recent years.

Following a lengthy public input session in which more than 20 people lobbied the council to take the step, the Prairie Village City Council on Monday repealed the city’s ban on pit bulls.

The move comes nearly five years after a similar proposal was voted down by the council. The issue was reintroduced for discussion at a council of the whole meeting in January, during which the council advanced it to final consideration for last night’s meeting. Prairie Village was one of a dwindling number of Shawnee Mission area cities that still had an outright ban on the breed on its books.

Prior to Monday’s meeting, the council received more than 80 emails from residents who wanted the ban lifted and nine who said they didn’t. About three-fourths of the approximately 30 speakers who addressed the council ahead of the vote Monday asked the city to repeal the ban, saying it unfairly hurt the dogs, and that there was no conclusive evidence that pit bulls posed a more significant safety risk to humans than other breeds.

When the vote came, the tally was 9-2 in favor of repeal, with Ward 5 council members Courtney McFadden and Dan Runion in opposition.

Arguments among the council for and against repeal

Ward 1 Councilwoman Jori Nelson was the main proponent of the push to repeal. At Monday’s meeting, she noted that 28 cities in Kansas had repealed pit bull bans since 2008.

“Science tells us that approximately six out of 20,000 genes determine the pet shape of a dog that is often cited to determine a breed label,” Nelson said. “Professionals have stated that visual identification of a breed is extremely difficult and accuracy is very low.”

She cited information from the National Canine Research Council, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Bar Association and the American Veterinary Association opposing breed-specific bans, and said that “aggression is not a breed characteristic or personality trait, and it is not specific to any one breed of dog.”

Prairie Village records show that the city’s dangerous animal ordinance is working, Nelson said. In 2016, 33 animal bites were reported. In 2019, 20 bites were recorded, “one of which was an iguana.”

“Making a city safer and more humane entails a solid vicious-animal ordinance, public awareness and education on how to interact safely around dogs,” she said.

Ward 4 Councilwoman Sheila Myers was absent and did not participate by phone, but McFadden read a written statement from Myers in which Myers cited research including 14 peer-reviewed medical studies from level one trauma centers across the country that found “pit bulls are inflicting a higher prevalence of injuries than all other breeds of dogs” and that pit bulls caused the most severe injuries among all dog breeds.

“I agree that not all pit bulls will viciously attack other animals or humans, but I can’t tell which ones will,” Myers wrote, adding that the city needs “a proactive ordinance requiring owners to take safety measures that would prevent and minimize an attack.”

She advocated requiring pit bull owners to have a 6-foot-high, secure fence; leash or muzzle the dog when it’s off their property; provide obedience training for the dog; have a microchip placed in the dog and provide the chip’s serial number and manufacturer’s name; and spay or neuter the dog.

“If those restrictions are included in the ordinance, I would support a repeal,” Myers wrote. “If council votes to repeal without restrictions, then every council member who votes in favor will bear responsibility when, not if, a pit bull mauls a dog or person in Prairie Village.”

PETA weighs in

While proponents of the repeal pointed to the statements from national organizations like the National Canine Research Council and the American Veterinary Association, not every prominent animal rights group supports repealing breed specific ordinances.

Prairie Village Mayor Eric Mikkelson and members of the council received an email Tuesday morning — after the vote had already been taken — from an official with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals saying the organization had been contacted by area residents “concerned about the pressure being placed on city officials to remove current restrictions on those who keep pit bulls.”

PETA has issued similar statement in support of pit bull bans in other municipalities in recent years.

“We believe that current law better protects animals—including pit bulls—and humans in the community, and we and our members are opposed to removing restrictions,” wrote Teresa Chagrin, PETA’s animal care and control issues manager. “No one can deny that there are breed-specific problems with pit bulls, which is why targeted programs and exceptions are made for this breed in communities across the country. Breed-specific protection laws have nothing to do with ‘discrimination’ and everything to do with protecting this most commonly bred and abused type of dog. The reality is that pit bulls and pit bull mixes constitute a disproportionate number of discarded dogs in animal shelters across the country and are overrepresented in cruelty-to-animals cases.”

In the letter, Chagrin advised the council to:

  • Require spaying or neutering for all pit bulls.
  • Prohibit dog chaining and caging, including long-term indoor crating.
  • Require keeping pit bulls indoors unless they’re being walked by an adult with a leash and secure harness.

“Additional safety requirements that have been considered or implemented in other communities include requiring pit bull owners to complete criminal background checks and professional training courses and to carry valid liability insurance,” she wrote.

At Monday’s meeting, the council rejected a motion to have city staff formulate language to amend its code with additional restrictions regarding dangerous animals and submit it later for the council’s consideration. The motion failed on an 8-3 vote.