SERGEANT BLUFF | Sergeant Bluff City Council members heard mixed views Tuesday on whether the city's pit bull ban should be kept, finessed or eliminated.
They ultimately decided to postpone a decision to seek more community input, but not until after the city's assistant police chief requested the council keep the 14-year-old ban in place, while a council member said he supported rescinding the ban with adequate safety precautions.
"Why fix something that isn't broken?" assistant police chief Brent Rosendahl wrote in a letter submitted to the council to be read by Mayor Jon Winkel in his absence.
He said he and many in the department support keeping the ban, pointing to a statistic on the website DogsBite.org that states pit bulls have accounted for approximately 64-65 percent of dog bite fatalities so far this year.
Rosendahl said he would, however, like to see one change in the ordinance: specifically defining the dog breeds the city considers a pit bull in the code to help police better identify them.
Councilman Bill Gaukel, who was absent due to business, also submitted a letter but said he supported rescinding the ban, with safety measures.
"I think responsible families should have the ability to raise a pit bull just like they would a Labrador, Yorkie or any other breed," he wrote. "(But) I believe it is necessary that we proceed cautiously and allow these animals under certain restrictions, limitations and obligations."
The council's decision to revisit the city's ban began last month, when resident Sam Vice requested a hearing after his American Staffordshire terrier, Nikko, was found by police. American Staffordshire terriers are among a handful of dog breeds categorized as pit bulls.
In the intervening weeks, the council has been gathering information from local experts and community members on the issue. A committee including two council members, police, city staff and a longtime animal rescue volunteer discussed the issue at length and came forward Tuesday with three options.
The first would keep the ordinance as-is with no changes. The second would keep the ordinance but finesse the ordinance's currently vague definition of "pit bull" to include six breeds of dog and would allow pit bulls to remain in foster or rescue situations for up to 90 days. The third option would lift the ban for dogs provided they and their owners meet an extended set of requirements.
Under those requirements, families could have a single pit bull older than 6 months provided the dog was spayed or neutered, registered and micro-chipped, had a training certificate and bite insurance for a minimum of $100,000 and wore a collar and tag while outdoors.
Owners would need to pass a background check, have a fenced-in backyard, be over 19 to handle the dog outdoors and carry a break stick to pry open the jaws in case of a bite. The dog would also need to be muzzled and on a leash of no more than 6 feet when outdoors.
Those on rental properties would require signed permission from the property owner and the police department.
Councilman Ron Hanson said he had surveyed several community members and found approximately three-quarters supported lifting the ban.
"I've always stated that the issue comes down to the irresponsible owner of the pet," he said.
Councilwoman Carol Clark, who said after the meeting she's continuing to mull her position, said she had heard a much different reaction from those she's talked to.
The council will now request a recommendation from the city's Mayors Committee -- a 12-seat board composed of a cross-section of demographics meant to inform city decisions. The committee meets Dec. 6.