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Responsible Owners of Arkansas Dogs (ROADs) Files Constitutional Challenge Against Pit Bull Bans

Thanks to Charlie, furmom to the Wee Beasties, for barking in this news! Charli wrote: ROADs (Responsible Owners of Arkansas Dogs) has filed a constitutional...

Joy  |  Jan 4th 2008


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Thanks to Charlie, furmom to the Wee Beasties, for barking in this news!

Charli wrote:
ROADs (Responsible Owners of Arkansas Dogs) has filed a constitutional challenge in federal court against ordinances that ban pit bulls in four central Arkansas cities.

Thanks to NWANews.com and the Arkansas Democrat Gazette for this article.

Court dogfight over ban targets 4 cities
BY LINDA SATTER

Posted on Monday, December 31, 2007

A constitutional challenge has been filed in federal court against ordinances that ban pit bulls in four central Arkansas cities.

Breed-specific legislation is growing like wildfire, kind of like the fires in California,” Roger Schnyer, founder and director of a nonprofit animal welfare group, Responsible Owners of Arkansas Dogs, said Friday, explaining why his group is seeking court scrutiny.

He said that a lot of misinformation is behind the bans, which are often passed by cities without proper legal input.

It simply takes a meeting of a city council or a quorum court. Its done simply with a vote of those present,” he said. Any ordinance will stand until its challenged in court.” Although 10 Arkansas cities are thought to have some form of legislation regulating the ownership of pit bulls and related breeds, the lawsuit is aimed at ordinances in just four of those cities: Jacksonville, Lonoke, North Little Rock and Beebe.

Schnyer, who lives in Lonoke, said thats because the four individual plaintiffs reside in those cities and have been personally affected by the bans, which gives them proper standing to sue. Schnyers group is also a plaintiff, but he isnt personally.

I do not own a pit bull. I own a 3-and-a-half pound Chihuahua, which at this very moment is curled up on my lap,” the 68-year-old former child-support enforcement investigator said Friday. But somebody had to take up the cause.” Describing himself as in disgustingly good health,” Schnyer vowed to appeal all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court if the lawsuit fails, saying, Were in it for the long run.” He said his 38 years spent working in the judicial system included being a criminal investigator in Independence County.

While Schnyer said many breed-specific bans are enacted without legal consultation, Lonoke City Attorney Randy Grice said Friday that in drafting Lonokes relatively new ban on pit bulls, We relied heavily on Maumelles city ordinance, which was upheld as constitutional by the Arkansas Supreme Court.” The case, decided in 1991, is Holt v. City of Maumelle.

We went to great lengths to ensure due process is met,” Grice said. We didnt just haphazardly draw this up.” Under the policy, a pet dog that is considered a banned breed is euthanized only when an owner fails to come get it after it has been seized, Grice said. Owners who claim their dogs arent allowed to keep them in the city limits. Grice said the seizure process includes several notices” sent to the owner and does not occur in simply a matter of days.

Similarly, North Little Rocks animal control director, Billy Grace, said the previous city attorney assured him that the pitbull ban has been upheld all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court.” Grace said that since his citys enactment of the ban in 2004, We have picked those things up left and right…. Its probably the best thing weve ever done.” He said he has sympathy for the dogs, who often have ended up in the hands of unscrupulous owners, and that irresponsible owners, in fact, are the reason for the ban.

The current city attorney, Jason Carter, couldnt be reached for comment on Friday.

Schnyers group, which was incorporated on July 17 and now has about 75 members, is affiliated with a national group called Responsible Dog Owners of the Western States.

Were not an animal-rights organization,” Schnyer said adamantly. Were an animal-welfare organization. Were here to help all breeds of dogs, not just pit bulls, [but ] we dont want them to have the same rights as people.” He said the groups philosophy is, if the dog does something, dont penalize the dog.” Just as with young children who rely on people to guide and care for them, Schnyer noted, The dog cant read newspapers and follow regulations.” The plaintiffs, represented by attorney Andrew L. Clark of Little Rock, are seeking a declaratory judgment that the breedspecific ordinances violate the 5 th and 14 th amendments to the U. S. Constitution, as well as the Commerce Clause. They are also seeking compensatory damages, as well as a return of fine money the cities collected pursuant to the ordinances.

The case, filed Thursday in Little Rock, has been assigned to Chief U. S. District Judge Leon Holmes.

Clark, who couldnt be reached for comment on Friday, alleged in the complaint that the ordinances definitions of prohibited breeds are unconstitutionally vague and overbroad,” creating undue burdens on dog owners to prove a dogs breed, while it is scientifically impossible to determine the breed of a mixed-breed dog or its origin.” The suit also alleges that the ordinances discriminate against classes of individuals without a rational government test, and interfere with due-process rights by allowing property to be seized without notice, a pre-seizure hearing or just compensation.

The individual plaintiffs include: Richard Venable of Lonoke, who paid someone $ 425 to board his pit bull after he was required to remove the dog from the city; Darius Sims of Jacksonville, whose two American Staffordshire terriers were euthanized before he could find a home for them, even though he agreed to have them sterilized and micro-chipped; Phillip Mc-Cormick of Beebe, who pays $ 250 a week to board his dogs after the city took them from his home; and Mike Kierry of North Little Rock, who paid $ 1, 500 for a dog with the intention of breeding it, only to have it seized by North Little Rock Animal Control officials. The city neutered and microchipped the animal but forced Kierry to surrender it because he had violated the ordinance by failing to have the procedures done himself.

News articles dating back to 2005 indicate that pit-bull bans or restrictions apply in North Little Rock, Sherwood, Maumelle, Pine Bluff, Lonoke, Jacksonville, Mc-Gehee, Des Arc, Hot Springs and Beebe. Earlier this month, Little Rock officials discussed regulating ownership of the dogs and classifying them as a dangerous breed without enacting an outright ban.

The proposed ordinance would require residents to register their pit bulls with Animal Services, pose for a photograph with the dog, sterilize the dog and buy a dangerous breed permit. Homeowners also would have to post a city-issued sticker every year on a window visible from the street notifying passersby of a pit bulls presence, and microchip the animal with identifying information.

The dog would have to be kept indoors or in an outside enclosure, or wear a muzzle.

The ordinance would apply to American pit bull terriers, Staffordshire terriers, American Staffordshire terriers and any mix of those breeds.

The citys Animal Control Division reported that pit bulls made up about 34 percent of all dog attacks on human beings in the city last year or 47 out of 135 bites.

Schnyer said he has visited cities and counties across the state to discuss breed-specific legislation, and as a result, some officials have dropped plans for breed-specific bans. He said Lonoke County decided to use our model ordinance.” The model regulations can be viewed online at roadsinc. org, under Our Positions.” The regulations describe dogs as personal property” and advocate specific methods of containing and caring for them, with suggested penalties for owners who fail to comply.

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