Yakima may be on way to revisiting longstanding ban on pit bulls

A friendly pit bull encountered on the Ellerbe Creek Trail in Durham, N.C.

A friendly pit bull encountered on the Ellerbe Creek Trail in Durham, N.C. Wikimedia commons photo by Ildar Sagdejev

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YAKIMA — The Yakima City Council put off discussion of the city’s pit bull ban and dangerous dogs law after supporters and opponents presented testimony and hundreds of pages of information Tuesday.

The council did not immediately set a date to resume talks on whether to keep or repeal the ordinance, which was enacted in 1987 after three reported unprovoked attacks by pit bulls in Yakima.

Among those testifying was Doug Robinson, a Yakima County resident whose daughter, Darla, was mauled to death by her own pet pit bull in California in 2011. She was 6 months pregnant at the time.

“Darla respected animals,” Robinson said. “She really believed in these dogs and that they just needed a break, and yet that ended her life.”

Yakima’s pit bull ban has been debated for years. Opponents challenged the ordinance in court for being “unconstitutionally vague” but it was upheld in the state Supreme Court in 1989.

Opponents continued that argument Tuesday, with James Boyer saying research since that ruling has led to a growing consensus that dogs can often be misidentified as having traits of certain breeds just based on eyeball tests.

“It’s simply not possible to physically identify a dog as pit bull or having mostly pit bull elements,” Boyer said.

City Code Enforcement Manager Joe Caruso said there are fewer pit bulls in Yakima every year as a result of the ordinance, down to 39 impounded by the city so far this year compared to 96 in 2009.

“The education on the street is working,” he said.

The city’s ordinance specifically bans bull terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier and American Staffordshire terriers as well as dogs with any “identifiable” pit bull variety as an element of their breeding.

Law enforcement relies on Yakima’s sole animal control officer Ben Zigan to identify whether animals are pit bulls or have significant pit bull breeding in their genetics. Zigan told the council determinations are based on a combination of factors including the build of the animal’s chest, the shape of its head, the length of its tail, the way its ear lay and its muscular build.

Yakima resident Ryan Low said that methodology has resulted in residents rescuing dogs from animal shelters as puppies only to see them taken away and potentially face criminal charges as their pets age and develop certain features.

“I’ve been looking for a way to patch this gap between criminally wrong negligence and having a family pet,” Low said.

The city is also reconsidering its dangerous dogs ordinance, which establishes containment, insurance liability and public awareness requirements for owners to follow if they want to keep their dogs that have been involved in reported violent incidents.

Council members Maureen Adkison and Bill Lover unsuccessfully sought to affirm the city’s stance on the pit bull ban and dangerous dog ordinance at the Tuesday study session. Councilman Dave Ettl said residents had taken enough time to provide testimony and possible alternatives that they deserved more time for consideration.

“The whole idea behind this session was to collect information,” Ettl said.

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