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Breed-specific dog bans targeted by Missouri lawmakers

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Dog at shelter

A pit bull mix looks at visitors from its kennel at the St. Louis Animal Control Center. Photo by J.B. Forbes

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri lawmakers are considering legislation that would bar local governments from regulating or banning specific dog breeds.

A bill sponsored by Rep. David Gregory, R-Sunset Hills, specifies that only the Legislature can make rules regulating dogs based on their breed. The measure, if it becomes law, would nullify all existing local breed-specific ordinances in Missouri.

Gregory said during a House Local Government Committee hearing Thursday he supports local control in most cases, but that the Legislature should step in to prevent local government overreach.

“It is wrong for the government to come into your home and tell you what dog you can or cannot own based on the breed,” he said, calling it an “abuse of power.”

Under the proposal, local governments could still make other rules to control or regulate dogs.

Gregory, who is considering a run for statewide office in 2022, made a distinction between breed-specific rules and legitimate restrictions such as leash and muzzle laws, ordinances targeting “vicious” dogs, or even regulations based on the size or weight of a dog.

Some cities already have laws that are not based on breed.

In St. Joseph, “we spell out what a vicious dog is, what requirements you have to do when you’re outside of your property for safety, because we all know there’s all kinds of vicious dogs, different breeds,” Rep. Bill Falkner, R-St. Joseph, said.

In Florissant, the city council removed a pit bull ban in 2017 while strengthening other regulations.

But others argued that breed-specific regulations could be necessary.

A former canine officer, Rep. Richard West, R-Wentzville, said he still exercised precautions with his own nonvicious police dog, such as keeping it in a fenced-in yard inside a kennel with a closed top.

West recalled two separate incidents of dog attacks he encountered in his work: a young girl who had her face ripped off and an older woman who lost both arms.

Both animals were pit bulls and were “good dogs” before the incidents, he said.

West said he opposed outright bans on specific breeds but would be in favor of allowing local governments to require additional safety precautions because “it usually requires an incident” before a dog is subject to “vicious dog” regulations.

“There’s probably more Chihuahua bites than pit bull bites but when a pit bull does that damage it’s usually irreversible,” he said.

Other concerns focused on the removal of local control.

Rep. Craig Fishel, R-Springfield, said elected officials in Springfield opted to create a registry for pit bulls because of specific problems the city was having.

“We have data that shows that our legislation has greatly decreased the number of injuries related to a specific breed,” he said.

Fishel called the effort to ban all local governments from crafting breed-specific rules “a blanket fix because maybe there’s a few people that are abusing it.”

Rep. Randy Railsback, R-Hamilton, said he expected towns in his district to object to the removal of local control. Both Railsback and Fischel implied that pit bulls were associated with illegal activity in their areas.

Gregory and others countered that focusing on specific breeds makes it more difficult to address the true issue of vicious dogs.

When you remove breed-specific regulations, “you’re also freeing up animal control officers to actually do their jobs and focus on tracking down dangerous animals,” a representative of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said.

The Missouri Pet Breeders Association and Stray Dog Policy also testified in favor of the bill.

The ASPCA website counts 29 states with no bans on breed-specific regulations and 21 with bans.

Although the committee hearing mainly focused on pit bull bans, other banned breeds can include bulldogs, mastiffs, Rottweilers, Dalmatians, chow chows, German shepherds and Doberman pinschers, the website says.

Gregory sponsored a similar proposal last year. It received preliminary approval from the House in mid-March but stalled before it could receive final approval and be sent to the Senate.

The proposal is HB 365.

Editor’s note: Rep. Craig Fishel’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.

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