Topeka Considers Repealing BSL

(All dogs pictured are happily adopted dogs saved from Topeka, KS)

Anthony, 6.26.10

UPDATE: 9.20.10

Diary entry #3 of the Topeka  Repeal!

On Thursday, September 16, 2010, the City of Topeka’s Public Safety Committee met to discuss the proposed revisions to the city’s current animal ordinance.  Highlights of the ordinance included the ineffectiveness of the current regulations on “pit bull” type dogs, the city recognizing a feral cat “Trap, Neuter, Return” (TNR) program, and consistency between state and local animal cruelty laws.

Topeka’s City Attorney assigned to prepare the revised ordinance, Kyle Smith, explained all the nuances of the ordinance at the beginning of the hearing.  Mr. Smith reiterated all of the original reasons the City was considering repealing the breed specific subsection of the ordinance, particularly, the resources that the pit bull regulations were exhausting, including tax payer money, shelter space, and the court’s docket.  He explained the amount of shelter space used in housing dogs the city identifies as “pit bulls” diminishes the amount of time other adoptable dogs are available for adoption before they are euthanized.  Repealing the breed specific section of the dangerous dog ordinance would free up space for more dogs to be adopted from the shelter.

Mr. Smith also outlined the difficulty in identifying a “pit bull” type dog and passed around a “Find the Pit Bull Game.”   He explained that the ordinance was largely ineffective in reducing dog bites and the enforceability was problematic.  “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got,” Smith said.

Public comment opened with the Executive Director of the Helping Hands Humane Society, Stacy Hensiek saying the shelter and board members “…support this ordinance 110%.”  Citizen after citizen stood up at the meeting and repeated that they, too, support the repeal of the “pit bull” regulations.  One woman said she worked for UPS and had never been bit or attacked by any “pit bull.”  Another stood up and said she had been a letter carrier for the postal service for several years and had never been bit or attacked by a “pit bull” and she was glad the City of Topeka was finally repealing the breed specific law.

The public comments questioning the rationale of the ordinance largely had to do with the City of Topeka’s decision to recognize private TNR programs by not seizing and euthanizing feral cats.  One citizen said he would like for the city to consider a pet waste responsibility law (completely reasonable in our opinion), but not one person, not a single one, said “pit bulls” are dangerous or the city’s current ordinance should be maintained.

The next meeting is Tuesday, September 21st in City Council Chambers at 6:00 pm.  This is the first reading of the ordinance and there is no public comment.  The second and final reading of the proposed ordinance is Tuesday, September 28th at 6:00 pm.  If you would like to speak in favor of the city repealing the ban, you must be signed up to speak no later than 5:00 pm.

UPDATE: 9.9.10

*All dogs pictured here are (happily adopted) survivors from Topeka

UPDATE! Sept. 9, 2010: The City of Topeka is holding a public meeting with the Public Safety Committee on September 16, 2010, from 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm at the Hillcrest Community Center (1800 SE 21st, Topeka, KS).  The meeting will allow public comment, but each comment is limited to 4 minutes.  Please make time to attend this meeting to ensure the council committee is informed!


The first reading of the revised dangerous dog ordinance is scheduled for September 21, 2010.  Public comment is allowed at the first reading. Get out and let your voice be heard!  The second and final reading is scheduled for September 28, 2010.  Dogs like Arturo, Sterling, and Doc (below) need you to speak for them!

Arrive early to ensure you are heard!  City council meetings begin promptly at 6:00 pm, at 214 E. 6th St., Topeka, KS.  More information here.

In January of 2010, the University of Kansas Student Animal Legal Defense Fund sponsored a presentation by Ledy VanKavage of Best Friends Animal Society entitled “Due Process and Doggie Discrimination.”  In attendance were several representatives of the City of Topeka, KS, including Assistant City Attorney Kyle Smith.  After listening to the seminar and raising some practical issues and logistical questions, the City decided to move away from the current ordinance and move toward a breed neutral dangerous dog law that will actually keep Topeka citizens safe.

Topeka Animal Control runs about $30,000 over budget annually and the euthanasia rates are extremely high.  These are a direct result of having to seize, house and euthanize pit bulls – pit bulls who exhibited no behavior issues, just physical traits that meant they may or may not be 51% of the breed in question.  But pit bulls aren’t the only ones being affected.  The pit bulls who are being held for the allotted time are taking up space in the shelter, requiring that many other breeds be euthanized to make room for the pit bulls.  So owners are losing dogs who aren’t dangerous, dogs that look like pit bulls are being killed because of the way they looked, and dogs that don’t look like pit bulls are being killed to make room for the ones that did – all to the tune of $30K over budget annually.

In addition to their specific reasons, Topeka cited facts well known to us in the rational, breed neutral community for their desire to eliminate breed specific language from their dangerous dog ordinance.  From their research:

  • Breed Specific Legislation, i.e. targeting a particular breed such as Pit Bulldogs has generally been discredited as ineffective and expensive.
  • Since 1965 there have been 11 fatal dog attacks in Kansas, by 8different breeds of dogs.
  • Studies show that cities with breed specific laws are not any safer.  Stronger laws against aggressive and dangerous dogs which hold the owners responsible are seen as more effective.
  • Any breed of dog can be made vicious, and conversely, Pit Bulls can be excellent and safe pets.
  • Mixed breed dogs make the breed specific legislation difficult to enforce. Absent cost-prohibitive DNA testing, it is difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the breed. (one study using DNA showed 84% of dogs in a shelter were mislabeled).
  • Over the past 9 years the TPD’s budget for operating Animal Control has run over budget almost $30,000 per year, for a total of $272,751.55
  • The vast majority of these budget overruns are caused by dogs being held as unlicensed pit bulls
  • These are not dogs that exhibited vicious behavior, just running loose or otherwise in violation of our breed specific ordinances.
  • The money could be better spent on dangerous dogs.
  • Helping Hands Humane Society (HHHS) frequently has to kill hundreds of adoptable dogs of other breeds in order to comply with our contract and provide individual kennels for ‘held’ pit bulls.
  • Current Breed Specific ordinances have proven ineffective in reducing the number of pit bulls in Topeka.
  • Economic impact can be negative as certain dog shows and events avoid cities with breed specific ordinances.

To address the issue and make the necessary changes, Topeka formed a committee to advise the city council.  Included on this committee are City Councilwoman Karen Hiller, Assistant City Attorney Kyle Smith, and Best Friends Law Clerk Katie Barnett, among others.  By eliminating Breed Specific Language, strengthening the animal cruelty sections, and advancing the training of the Animal Control Officers, Topeka will be among the most progressive towns in their approach to animal care and control.

Here is the link to a City of Topeka Shelter Budget Spreadsheet, and here is the letter from the City Attorney outlining the changes (p 1, 2, 3).