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ZERSCHLING: Pit bull enforcement could choke taxpayers, group says

ZERSCHLING: Pit bull enforcement could choke taxpayers, group says

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Sioux City pitbull ban
Sioux City Animal Control officer Cody Harrington holds a pitbull at Animal Control's offices last year. (Journal photo by Tim Hynds)

What will it cost Sioux City taxpayers to enforce the pit bull ban?

According to a study released May 13 by John Dunham and Associates of Brooklyn, N.Y., the price tag could reach a staggering $122,000 a year.

It will cost $74,980 for enforcement, $19,360 to care for pit bulls in the shelter and provide veterinary care, $13,530 for euthanization and disposal, $1,520 to pay for litigation expenses and $12,610 to do DNA testing to determine if a seized dog is, in fact, covered by the city's pit bull ban.

"We hired an economic firm out of New York to run the figures in the United States for every major city and all the states," Ledy VanKavage, a lawyer for Best Friends Animal Society in Utah, told me.

In two dozen cities, John Dunham said his researchers found good information on dog breed bans. They used those figures along with data from other sources, including the demographics of each community, to develop a mathematical model.

"It is absolutely shocking, the lack of information that exists on pets in this country," Dunham said Tuesday from his Brooklyn office. "I can find out more about lettuce production."

Dunham estimated there are 1,420 pit bull-type dogs out of a total of 20,370 dogs in Sioux City. According to City Hall figures, there are 529 pit bulls and pit-bull mixes in the city that should have been reregistered by the March 31 deadline. Of that number, 106 were not.

Is that $122,000 near the mark?

"We don't have any figures," Donna Forker, the city's budget and financial manager, admitted. "We've not done this yet."

In 2007, Forker noted, the City Council awarded a three-year contract for $300,000 to Hannah Inc. to operate the city's animal control program.

"We're still trying to put together those figures on what it will cost to euthanize and dispose" of the unregistered dogs, Hannah owner Cindy Rarrat said. "It will cost the community money, unfortunately."

Another city embroiled in pit bull debates is Denver, whose council banned pit bulls in 1989. On April 8, The Denver Post reported at least eight people have filed or are considering filing more lawsuits against the city. One woman received a $5,000 settlement recently after animal control killed her pit bull. Dunham’s report predicted Denver will spend $803,170 annually in enforcement..

Councilman Aaron Rochester, who initiated Sioux City's pit bull ban in 2008, said he thinks Dunham's figures are inflated but admitted his opinions are not based on concrete data. He introduced the ban to cut down on the number of dogs running at large and those that bit people or other animals. More than half were pit bulls.

"With the reduction in the number of pit bulls being picked up, you have to imagine that will be a cost savings over time," he said.

Although Rarrat said none of the unregistered 106 pit bulls has been picked up by officers, about a dozen owners have voluntarily surrendered their pets.

Under the ban, City Attorney Andrew Mai said not all unregistered pit bulls will have to be killed. If a dog passes a temperament test and a rescue group can find that dog a home out of town, the animal may be relocated, Rarrat reported.

Even if that's the case, VanKavage said, "Suddenly you have the pet police coming to their door, taking their dog and possibly killing it."

John Polis, Best Friends' public relations manager, suggested, "Why not fine the owner a large amount -- say, $250 or $500 -- but spare the dog?"

VanKavage, who lives in Maryville, Ill., said it is difficult to determine what constitutes a pit bull, which actually is not a breed at all.

"I teach a lot of police training programs at universities and show a photo array of 20 dogs. I only had one recruit get it right, and I've taught over 3,000."

That's why DNA testing is the only concrete way to determine the dog's breed.

"Our philosophy is that responsible dog owners should be allowed to own whatever they want and reckless owners should not be allowed to own any dogs," VanKavage said.


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To view John Dunham and Associates' report on the cost to enforce a pit-bull ban, go to At the bottom of t…

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