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Minot panel wants more bite in its dangerous animal ordinance

Jacqueline Clouse of Burlington, N.D., keeps Wasabi, an 8-1/2-year-old American pit bull terrier, as a service dog. Jill Schramm / Minot Daily News

MINOT, N.D. — Minot needs a stronger dangerous animal ordinance, regardless of whether it keeps a breed-specific law banning pit bulls, according to a city committee examining the issue.

The Minot Animal Ordinance Committee voted Wednesday, Nov. 15, to draft new rules for pets and their owners while deciding to separately consider the request of a number of residents to lift the pit bull ban. The committee heard from residents at a public hearing Tuesday.

Samantha Gores, who had presented on behalf of residents supporting elimination of breed-specific laws, called for replacing such laws with breed neutral, dangerous animal ordinances.

"A dog's breed is an inaccurate indicator of behavior," she said. "BSL does not help. It hurts. There's no evidence of BSL having worked in any sense, anywhere or on any level of government. BSL does not make communities safer for people or pets. BSL is an ineffective and expensive mistake. It is time consuming and nearly impossible to enforce. It perpetuates myths, hysteria and fear."

Gores said breed identification is subjective, particularly in the case of Minot's ordinance, which prohibits not only certain breeds but dogs that appear to be pit bulls.

"There's no standard by which we can identify dogs based on appearance," Gores said. "Even people in animal-related professions can't accurately identify the dogs."

Animal control officer Tanya Mendelsohn said citations are given when complaints are received about pit bulls in city limits, and dogs must be removed from the city within 24 hours. It is up to owners to offer DNA evidence or other challenges to persuade the court to allow the dogs back in town.

In contrast, the city's vicious animal ordinance requires the owner of an animal that harms a person to appear in municipal court within 30 days. The nuisance animal is allowed to remain in the home during that time. An owner can abate a nuisance animal by destroying the animal, removing the animal from the city, permanently confining the animal or correcting the animal's behavior.

Pit bulls are allowed in the city if they are service or emotional support animals. They must be muzzled when in public and properly fenced in a yard.

From May 2014 through December 2016, animal control responded to 265 pit bull-related calls in Minot. Animal control responded to 97 animal bites that broke skin in 2015-16 and 58 bites so far this year. Mendelsohn said these bites typically involved pets with family members or people handling feral cats.

Committee member Randy McDonald, executive director at Souris Valley Animal Shelter, agreed the pit bull ban negatively affects the shelter financially. It also means pit bull-type dogs come into the shelter unsocialized, un-exercised and unvaccinated because people keep them underground, he said.

Numerous groups, from animal organizations to veterinary societies and insurance companies, have taken positions against breed-specific laws. Some North Dakota cities have repealed breed-specific ordinances in favor of dangerous animal ordinances.

While the majority of Tuesday's audience supported eliminating breed-specific laws, there also were people who recalled instances of attacks by pit bull dogs.

"It's a fear issue and it's a perception issue," said council member and committee chairman Shannon Straight, who has heard from numerous people wanting pit bulls banned. "That's going to be unbelievably challenging to overcome."