Lawmakers consider eliminating city bans on ‘bully breed’ dogs

By: - February 1, 2021 6:29 pm

The Iowa Senate os considering legislation that would ban cities from limiting the operation of pet stores and other animal-related businesses. (Photo courtesy of Cedar Valley Humane Society)

Colombus, a 6-week-old mixed-breed puppy, attended his first Senate subcommittee meeting on Monday.

A State Government subcommittee met Monday afternoon to hear public comment on Senate File 143, which would prohibit local governments from banning certain breeds of dog. 

Cedar Valley Humane Society director of operations Amanda Knefley, cradling Colombus, said Iowa’s current patchwork of local breed restrictions was a “nightmare situation.”

“It is a continuous burden for our staff to have to cross-reference every application for a bully breed to make sure their city and county can have that type of dog,” she said.

Local bans might complicate adoption for Colombus and his littermates. Although they look like St. Bernards, DNA testing found the puppies would technically be classified as a so-called “bully breed.”

“This kiddo is predominantly an American Staffordshire Terrier, so this little guy can’t go to any community that has a breed ban,” Knefley said. 

Knefley and several other animal shelter administrators emphasized that aggressive dogs were a result of poor training, not breed.

“We believe dogs should be viewed as individuals,” said Ryan Wille, development manager at the Humane Society of Scott County. “Temperament is a product of socialization and upbringing by humans, rather than their breed.”

Two city government officials opposed the bill in Monday’s subcommittee meeting.

“It removes the ability for a local elected official from taking their constituents’ concerns into consideration,” Daniel Stalder said on behalf of the Iowa League of Cities, an advocacy group for municipal governments. 

Council Bluffs Mayor Matt Walsh spoke in favor of his city’s breed ban. He initially opposed the legislation, he said, but now believes it made the community safer.

“It’s not the dog, it’s the dog owner,” Walsh said. “Unfortunately, bully dogs attract the wrong type of owner.”

Subcommittee chair Sen. Chris Cournoyer, R-LeClaire, said her own dog could be perceived as a pitbull or another bully breed, and she acknowledged the importance of training all dogs properly.

“I don’t want to punish responsible dog owners that provide caring, loving environments for their dogs… because of the actions of the irresponsible dog owners,” she said.

The bill did not advance Monday. Cournoyer said she plans to speak more to the Iowa League of Cities and potentially continue the conversation in another, longer subcommittee meeting.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.