Legislator works to end breed bans in Utah

Have you ever heard of Breed Specific Legislation? It's an ordinance that bans people from owning a specific breed of dog, most commonly Pit Bull Terriers. It's something I’ve been very aware of for the last decade because I have a Pit Bull Terrier named Paris.

10 cities in Utah have these breed bans in place. Tonight we dig deeper into this once highly debated issue to understand why it may soon go away all together.

This winter, Megan and Bart Bowen adopted a 2 year-old dog named Aggie.

"He’s exactly what we were looking for. We wanted a dog that could hang out with us at home on the couch or go running with us. He's a two year-old big boy. He's a lot of fun," Megan Bowen said.

But Aggie was not the first dog this couple fell in love with, Toby was. Two months later, we found Toby still waiting to be adopted at Best Friends Animal Society. So why is Aggie enjoying a game of fetch while Toby paws to get out of this kennel? Simply put his appearance. Toby looks like he could be part Pit Bull Terrier and that breed is banned where the Bowens live.

"Turns out since we lived in South Jordan, it wasn't even an issue we just couldn't adopt him," Megan said.

It was heartbreaking for the couple who already had their sights set on Toby’s hazel eyes.

“I thought 'hey they haven't done anything wrong, why's there a law against them?” Bart questioned.

This kind of situation is also heartbreaking for best friends staff members like Erin Olsen.

“It’s unfair for the dog and the people who are very well intentioned and are a wonderful family and home," Olsen said.

Olsen has had to turn away several good homes while volunteering at Best Friends because of Breed Specific Legislation, also known as Breed Discriminatory Legislation.

Ten cities in the state of Utah have bans or restrictions in place against Pit Bull Terriers.

Delta City
Fillmore City
Morgan City
North Salt Lake
South Jordan.

The ban in South Jordan was passed in 1997 after a young girl was attacked. Today there's a new council and a new mayor. We spoke with Mayor David Alvord about his city's ban.

"I’m very sympathetic to those that have created that legislation and the response to that and sympathetic to the family that that happened to," Mayor Alvord said.

At the same time, Alvord believes in the idea of more liberty for citizens, less government.

“As humans, as owners we have the care of many dangerous objects. We can own a gun, we can own a car. We can be in charge of many things that can cause harm to others. In the end we are a country that favors personal responsibility," Alvord said.

But what happens when someone is not responsible with such a powerful breed? For Ann Schilling a bite ended in 8 puncture wounds and knee surgery.

"It definitely has made a difference in how I view dogs," Schilling said.

Schilling was bitten by a neighbor's Pit Bull Terrier as she was coming home last March.

"As I got to my door all of a sudden, I felt this pinch on my leg," she said.

Schilling said she may never dance or ski again. Despite that she does not blame the breed.

"It’s not the dog, it's really the training," she said.

ABC 4 Utah spent weeks trying to find someone who supports B.S.L. but couldn't. A study by Best Friends Animal Society may explain why. It shows 84% of people feel government should not infringe on a person's right to own a certain breed. It's a belief shared by every major animal organization in the United States, including the American Kennel Club, the United Kennel Club, the ASPCA, the Humane Society, and Best Friends Animal Society.

"Best Friends Animal Society believes that animals should be treated as individuals and targeting a large group of animals that fit into a certain category is ineffective. Because it's not focusing on the real problem which is actually dangerous dogs and reckless owners," said Temma Martin with Best Friends.

Martin said owners, who don't get their pets spayed or neutered, don't train or socialize their pets, and keep them chained in a yard are the real cause of these issues. A Utah lawmaker agrees, so he drafted a bill (HB 97) that would end breed bans in every city across our state.

"The nice thing about the bill is that there are a lot of reasons to feel strongly that B.S.L. is a bad idea," said Representative Brian King.

King said most, if not all of these bans were written in response to a bad situation, like what happened to Ann Schilling.

"There’s a knee-jerk reaction on the part of some people that just don't understand breeds and how dogs really operate," Kng said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs every year, and there is no scientific proof one breed is more likely to bite than another. This is why representative King says it really comes down to us.

"Put the focus where it should be let's make sure people understand how you treat a dog so that it doesn't become aggressive," King said.

By putting the focus on owners, dogs like Toby won't continue sitting in the shelter, because of how he looks.

Best Friends Animal Society tells us Toby has since been adopted and is now in a new home. Mayor Alvord said he's waiting to see what happens with HB 97. If it's not passed he plans on bringing the breed ban in his city in front of the council again.

Today, HB 97 passed through committee with a vote of 6 to 5. It will now go in front of the house for a vote.

For more information on breed specific legislation, click here, and here.

For the entire interview with Rep. King, click here.

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