City action on pit bulls is necessary

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board October 11, 2013 09:06 am

City Councilor Roger Coles used the term “knee jerk reaction” Tuesday evening when councilors discussed imposing restrictions, or even an outright ban, on pit bulls.

In one sense the term is appropriate in this case.

A decision is sometimes deemed to be “knee jerk” when it’s prompted by a single event.

Trouble is, the term also, in many instances, connotes a decision which is based on emotion rather than on fact — “in the heat of the moment,” to use another cliché.

We don’t believe the City Council is acting in knee jerk fashion as regards pit bulls (and to be clear, Coles didn’t say he believed his colleagues had done so; he just said he hopes that doesn’t happen.)

For one thing, councilors didn’t take any action Tuesday except to agree to create a committee, led by Police Chief Wyn Lohner, that will write a proposed ordinance for the City Council to consider.

More importantly, though, the tragedy that prompted councilors to broach the subject is more than sufficient justification for the city to try to reduce the threat that pit bulls pose to residents.

In fact we’d argue that the fatal mauling of 5-year-old Jordan Ryan last month demands action from city officials.

The predictable platitudes we’ve heard since Jordan’s death — that not all pit bulls are dangerous; that people, not dogs, are to blame; that other breeds kill people, too — are true.

And irrelevant.

Over the past 30 years pit bulls have killed more people in the U.S. and Canada than the next 10 most dangerous breeds combined.

The freedom to own without any restrictions a breed of dog that is uniquely predisposed to kill people should not override the value of a single human life.

People aren’t the only innocent victims here, of course.

It’s terrible that unscrupulous dog owners, through genetic selection at the breed level and by the abuse of individual animals, have turned pit bulls into the worst of canine killers.

But that’s reality.

To use a term more often applied to airplane passengers, pit bulls deserve to be profiled.

Whether they should be banned altogether from Baker City is a separate question. We’d like to hear from the committee the city is creating. It’s possible that an ordinance which requires owners of pit bulls — and perhaps other aggressive breeds — to obtain a permit, and to prove that they have special precautions in place, would add a sufficient level of protection for city residents.

Either way, some people no doubt would deem the city’s restrictions unfair.

Owning a dog is not a constitutional right, but it is a responsibility. It’s not unfair to expect that that responsibility could include meeting standards designed to prevent another death.