Health department says Springfield pit bill ordinance works, should not be repealed

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo Individuals on both sides of the issue may be gearing up for another debate over Springfield's pit bull ordinance. A city councilwoman says it may be time to repeal the law, though the health department says it has the numbers to prove the law is working well- and it should be left in place.

The pit bull ordinance is an issue that's followed Director of Health Kevin Gipson for years.

"It was very controversial then; it has been controversial for the last ten years, he said.

He recalls, when he came on board as director in 2004, there was a major pit bull problem

"It was dangerous for our officers; it crowded out shelter; it was dangerous on the streets. Mailmen were getting mauled; we were having serious dog attacks."

In 2006, the pit bull ordinance was enacted. The breed was not banned. Owners simply had to get them registered, spay and neuter them, get them microchipped, and post a sign about their dogs.

"Like anything in society, you do not make laws for the best of us. You make them for the worst of us. And that is what we did," Gipson stated.

But, it was not the end of it. Supporters of pit bulls say their pups are being picked on and unfairly targeted. Councilwoman Kristi Fulnecky is not getting involved with the issue.

"I think it is time we take a look at it and that we hear from constituents and see what they think," she said.

Fulnecky will be bringing forth a bill at the January 9th council meeting that could result in the repeal of the breed-specific ordinance. Fulnecky believes the ordinance is discriminatory

She explained, "It has been my understanding there have been bites from all breeds. to me it is the owner and environment that can create a vicious animal."

The health department says it understands pit bulls are not the only dogs that bite people. However, it's their type of bite that leads to more issues and the need for restrictions.

"Other dog breeds bite," Gipson said. "Pit bulls are very strong and athletic dog. When they bit they do not let go and cause some severe damage. They are bred to fight. They are fighting dogs. It is inherent in their nature."

The health department says it is basing it's defense on the facts and numbers, and not emotions.

Gipson said, "I think this ordinance has not only been good for citizens and the prevention of injury, but it has been good for pit bull dog."

Before the law, one in three dog bites in town were from pit bulls/pit bull mixes. Those numbers have since decreased dramatically, from 34 cases in 2005 to just 16 last year. Also, before 2006, the city picked up and euthanized hundreds of pit bulls a year. In 2016, just 26 were put down. The department credits multiple things, including the ordinance encouraging responsible pet ownership, microchipping, and adoption programs.

Gipson said he understand people are passionate about their dogs and this issue. However, he is concerned what could happen if the ordinance is repealed.

"I don't have a crystal ball," Gipson stated. "I can just tell you where we were before and I don't think we want to be there again."

Fulnecky and many pit bull supporters point to the fact many communities around the country are repealing breed-specific legislation. However, the health department says that's like comparing apples and oranges. Those same communities often replace breed-specific language with more-blanket universal guidelines applying to all breeds. That means rules requiring registration, spaying/neutering, and microchipping are no longer limited to pit bulls, but are expanded to cover all breeds of dogs. Springfield has not had a universal dog ordinance on the books since 1978.