SIOUX CITY -- The City Council on Monday voted 5-0 to ban pit bulls, despite emotional testimonials, questions, accusations and even tears from more than a dozen people who tried to convince the council not to do it.
Only a few of the roughly 40 people in the audience said they supported the ban on the several dog breeds which fall under the pit bull category.
One woman left the council chambers in tears. "They listened to it three times, but they had their minds made up," she said.
It was the council's third and final vote to enact the ban, following three hearings on the measure.
The ordinance allows current pit bull owners who keep their dog registered to keep their pet but not to replace it with another pit bull when it dies. The ban exempts the Humane Society, Animal Control, dogs participating in dog shows and puppies born to pit bulls in the city, up to six months of age.
Any pit bull not in compliance would be impounded, and the owner given 10 days to pay the impoundment costs and produce evidence the dog would be permanently removed from Sioux City. Otherwise it would be put down.
Councilman Jim Rixner promised to introduce a set of amendments to the ordinance at next Monday's council meeting. He has said previously the amendments would include strict regulations for confinements, muzzling and waist leashes when a pit bull is outdoors.
The ordinance applies to the breeds American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier and Staffordshire bull terrier and to "any dog which has the appearance and characteristics of being predominately" of those breeds.
Derisive laughs from the audience followed when a speaker was told that "experts" would determine whether a dog was a pit bull. Speakers were asked to limit their comments to three minutes, but were largely allowed to finish their remarks.
Sherry Flansburg argued for "a better way than a ban. It's not going to solve the problem," she said, comparing the ban to Prohibition. She said she didn't think the council had taken seriously pit bull supporters' comments to mandate muzzling, leashing and warning signs on owners' property.
And, she said, the ban would mean only bad owners will breed their dogs. She warned that it would take a while, but other breeds would replace pit bulls as the so-called "vicious dog."
Wardell Greer said he supports that ban. "It's my belief that every adult has responsibility for the safety of any child," he said, calling on the council to let that weigh heavily in its decision.
One woman called for a Neighborhood Watch to report dogs running loose. Others called on the city to punish the bad dogs, not the breed. And, several speakers urged the city to simply enforce the current laws.
"A ban is overboard," Daymond Pederson told the council. "It's the breed I love; (the ban) is not right for me." He said a ban won't work and that Miami banned the dogs 20 years ago and euthanizes 700 each year. However, that figure was challenged by Cheryl VanDonslear, vice president of the Siouxland Animal Rescue League, as being for all of Dade County. City Attorney Andrew Mai, who moved to Sioux City from Miami less than a year ago, said he had never seen a pit bull in Miami.
Deric Hardnett called the ban "equivalent to racism." He said pit bulls were bred to herd cattle just as people were bred to pick cotton. "I ask you to look inside your heart and if you can see this ban, then you're a racist yourself," he told the council.
Betty Yepma said drug dealers' dogs are causing the problems and they should be banned, not the dogs. "What's next? The rottweilers?" she asked.
VanDonslear noted the expenses of euthanizing animals: $150 bottle of gas would kill only four medium-sized dogs, and that the city could anticipate costly lawsuits.
Councilman Aaron Rochester responded that the city spends 60 percent of its budget on fire and police protection and that it would spend more, if needed, to protect its residents from vicious dogs.
City Manager Paul Eckert acknowledged insufficient funding in the past but defended the city's current support, noting it is building a $1.1 million facility for Animal Control and has increased funding for police and animal control record keeping.
In answer to a suggestion that the public vote on the ban, Mayor Mike Hobart noted that Iowa does not allow a public referendum on laws.
In the end, Rixner told the audience he had "listened hard" at all three hearings. He said although he thought most of the city's responsible pit bull owners were sitting in the audience, it was time to punish the dogs, not fine the owners.
"It's not a perfect world," he said. "Pit bulls tend to bite more often."