Pit bull ban continues after ND town votes to keep 1987 ordinance in place

DEVILS LAKE, N.D. -- A decades-old pit bull ban in Devils Lake will continue, but one resident isn't giving up on efforts to overturn it. The Devils Lake Commission voted Monday, Nov. 21, against removing its ordinance that bans residents from ow...

File photo of a pit bull by Dave Wallis / Forum News Service

DEVILS LAKE, N.D. - A decades-old pit bull ban in Devils Lake will continue, but one resident isn't giving up on efforts to overturn it.

The Devils Lake Commission voted Monday, Nov. 21, against removing its ordinance that bans residents from owning pit bull breeds and mixes within city limits. The 3-2 vote came after commissioners said they received a lot of feedback on the matter, with a majority of residents telling city leaders they wanted the ban to stay, Mayor Dick Johnson said.

As the commission's president, Johnson, along with commissioners Craig Stromme and Dale Robbins, voted against repealing the ban. Commissioners Rick Morse and Ben Sander voted in favor of revoking the ban.

Commissioners decided to revisit the ordinance, which was first put in place in 1987, after Amanda McDonough told city leaders she wanted to adopt a pit bull but couldn't since she lives in Devils Lake. Those who possess pit bulls could face a $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail, according to city code.

Commissioners appeared open to discussing the ban's removal, with Johnson previously stating an ordinance that is "breed-specific is probably not good," and city code already covers dangerous animals.


"One of the arguments was, 'The ordinance has been there since 1987, and if it's not broke, why fix it?'" he said Tuesday. "The other school of thought is, 'Maybe it's time we update; it's old-fashioned, outdated ordinance.'"

Residents for and against the ban showed up at Monday's meeting, with both sides making their pitches. Some who opposed making pit bulls legal in Devils Lake worried owners wouldn't be responsible for their dogs if the commission voted down the nearly 30-year-old ordinance. Others said they felt threatened by pit bulls and they were afraid someone would get hurt if a pit bull got loose.

Commissioners were conflicted on how to vote, Johnson said, adding they expressed they understood both sides of the argument.

"It's a tough decision," he said. "They wanted to ensure the safety of the residents as they walk the streets ... but yet they can understand the concerns of those who wanted the ordinance changed and the ban lifted.

"It wasn't easy, but at some point in time, you have to make a decision in what you feel is the best interest overall, and that's what we've done," he added.

Petition in the works

Opponents of pit bull bans have said any dog can attack a person and the disposition of a canine depends on how the owner trains and treats it. The commission received an informal Facebook poll that said nearly 200 people voted in opposition of the ban. Six voted in the poll to keep the ban.

Johnson questioned whether there was information on who signed the informal petition, pointing out anyone on Facebook-whether they are a local resident or out-of-state citizen-could have voted in favor of repealing the ban.


"With Facebook petitions, that's not really a scientific measure," he said. "At that time, they really didn't have that information available to us."

TJ Jerke, North Dakota director of the Humane Society of the United States, said it appeared there were more people at the meeting against the ban than for it. He said bans that target certain breeds are ineffective, give residents a false sense of security and are difficult to enforce.

"Everyone suffers," he said. "Dogs suffer who are the victims in these situations. Owners suffer who lose their family member, their four-legged family member, on an account of what they are perceived to look like."

Roughly a dozen communities in North Dakota have pit bull bans, he said, and cities in the state, including Bismarck and Dickinson, have revoked bans in the past decade. Some cities in North America have looked at passing pit bull bans-one of the most recent was Montreal, though a judge suspended that law indefinitely-but Jerke said he has not heard of any cities in North Dakota passing laws lately that would ban the breed.

"We know that these bans are a dying trend across the country. What happened in Bismarck and Dickinson is similar to what's been happening across the country," he said of cities repealing pit bull bans.

McDonough said she and others will ask the city attorney for input on how to initiate a petition to repeal the ban, adding she hopes pit bull proponents can address the commission again.

"With all of the local experts and even the North Dakota representative of the Humane Society of the United States, it's a shame the majority of the commission chose hysteria over science," she said in a message.

Johnson couldn't say if the commission would reconsider the ordinance if a petition were brought forward.


"We haven't talked about it, so I really couldn't answer that," he said. "I really don't know."

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