First-ever election win for pit bull advocates
SPRINGFIELD, Missouri––Out-spending voices for animal and human safety by a margin perhaps as high as $10,000 to $1.00, pit bull advocates on August 7, 2018 celebrated their first-ever defeat of a pit bull ban in a municipal general election.
Reversing the outcome of earlier attempts to repeal pit bull bans in Miami-Dade County, Florida, and Aurora, Colorado, pit bull advocates in Springfield, Missouri polled at least 21,142 votes, or 68% of the votes cast, against 9,772 votes (32%) for the ban.
Older breed-specific ordinance remains in effect
Opened Question 1 on the Springfield primary election balloti:
“Shall the City of Springfield establish a future ban upon the possession of new pit bull dogs within the City limits by prohibiting acceptance of any new pit bull registrations and only allowing renewals of existing current pit bull dog registrations?”
Though the proposed ban on new pit bull registrations was rejected, the election result does not mean the end of breed-specific legislation in Springfield.
Still in effect is a pit bull registration ordinance enacted in 2006, which requires the owners of pit bulls and pit bull mixes to have them microchipped, spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and identified with a registration tag which must be worn at all times.
The language of the proposed Springfield pit bull ban, meant to strengthen the 2006 ordinance, was approved 5-4 by the city council in November 2017.
“The backlash was immediate,” recalls Springfield News-Leader reporter Alissa Zhu. “Residents threatened to boycott businesses associated with the five council members who voted for the ordinance. Within a month, more than 7,800 people signed a petition, circulated by a local group called Citizens Against BSL, in an effort to stop the ban.”
Enough petition signatures were certified to put the proposed ordinance before the Springfield voters.
The outcome, as in most municipal elections, appears to have decided by mobilization to get out the vote. Citizens Against BSL enjoyed strong support from pro-pit bull national organizations, opposed only by local victims of pit bull attacks with their own limited resources.
High turnout expected
The August 7, 2018 Missouri primary brought an unusually high turnout because of the presence on the ballot of statewide Proposition A, a so-called “right-to-work” measure generally supported by Republicans but opposed by Democrats. Proposition A, like Springfield Question 1, failed by a 2-1 margin.
High voter turnouts in Springfield tend to favor Republicans. Republicans tend to oppose new legislation more than Democrats, especially in Missouri.
“According to the Secretary of State’s office, Missouri voters have rejected politicians’ laws in more than 90% of the referendum votes in the state’s history,” recently wrote Will Schmitt of the Springfield News-Leader.
Ahead of the election, pro-pit bull organizations appeared confident they could keep the Springfield pit bull ban from taking effect.
An April 2018 survey of 625 registered Missouri voters, conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy Inc. for the American SPCA, which has heavily backed the campaign against the pit bull ban, reportedly “found that 62% of voters in Missouri are opposed to a pit bull ban in Springfield,” and that “67% of Missouri voters believe that government leaders should not have the authority to ban people from owning specific breeds of dogs,” according to an ASPCA media release.
Pro-ban mayor sat out the campaign
Bills to prohibit communities from banning pit bulls have stalled repeatedly in the Missouri legislature, where Republicans hold more than 70% of the seats in both the senate and the house of representatives, but the Springfield outcome could change that.
Current Springfield mayor Ken McClure, who introduced and strongly favors the pit bull ban, was elected in April 2017 after winning 14,958 votes, 68% of those cast, and about 2,000 votes more than is expected to be needed to approve the pit bull ban. His opponent, Kristi Fulnecky, who as a Springfield council member tried to roll back existing pit bull restrictions before the ban was introduced, received just 6,951 votes: 32%.
But McClure did not risk his popularity by campaigning vigorously for passage of Question 1.
Voters upheld pit bull bans in Miami-Dade & Aurora
Ballot measures seeking to repeal city pit bull bans have gone before voters twice before, in Miami-Dade County, Florida in August 2012 and in Aurora, Colorado in November 2014.
Both the Miami-Dade and the Aurora ballot measures, however, were placed on the ballot by votes of their respective municipal governments, rather than through the initiative petition process, and sought to repeal ordinances which had already been in effect for more than 20 years, whereas the Springfield ordinance is new.
The attempt to repeal the Miami-Dade pit bull ban failed, 63% to 37%, but since then the ban has been lightly enforced, if at all, while pit bulls who would have been excluded if the ban had been enforced to the letter killed Javon Dade Jr., age four, in 2014; Carmen Reigada, 91, in 2015; and Nyjah Espinosa, days short of her second birthday, also in 2015.
The attempt to repeal the Aurora pit bull ban failed, 68% to 32%.
Pit bull attacks
The proposed Springfield pit bull ban was passed after a series of attacks by pit bulls on humans and other animals.
Most notoriously, on July 18, 2017 two pit bulls jumped or broke through a fence to attack Evy and Lane Atwell, ages four and three, respectively, as they played in a wading pool under supervision of their mother, Christin Atwell, in their own back yard. All three were injured, suffering at least 15 bites among them before the children’s father, Travis Atwell, heard their screams and came running with a gun.
The pit bulls’ owner––who did not witness the attack––alleged to Paula Morehouse and Lance Green of KY3 News two days later that the pit bulls “were just giving them love.”
Victims fought for the proposed ban
“Three weeks later, City Council began talking about the possibility of a pit bull-free future in Springfield by phasing in a ban,” recounted Springfield News-Leader reporter Alissa Zhu.
“The Atwells, joined by the mother of a Taney County girl who had been seriously injured in a separate pit bull attack, made an emotional plea to City Council,” wrote Zhu, “arguing that pit bulls are too dangerous to allow in the city.”
ASPCA claim “not true”
Zhu noted that “Pamphlets distributed in Springfield, funded by the ASPCA, allege the pit bull ban would ‘rip apart pets and families, punishing those who have never done anything wrong.’ That’s not true.
“The ban, if passed,” Zhu explained, “would have allowed people to keep their pit bulls as long as they registered their pets before a certain date and renewed the registration every year. The city would have given owners until the election results were certified to register their pit bulls.”
Health Department data
The proposed pit bull ban was favored by the Springfield-Greene County Health Department.
Before Question 1 was put on the primary election ballot, “Health officials presented statistics about local dog bites to council members and described specific attacks in graphic detail, along with disturbing photos,” Zhu reported.
“Pit bulls and pit bull mixes were responsible for about 19% of bites in a three-year period starting in 2015, according to the health department,” Zhu summarized. “During that time, animal control investigated 43 bite incidents involving dogs identified as pit bulls or pit bull mixes. The two breeds with the next highest number of incidents were German shepherd mixes, with 24 bites, and terriers, with 20 bites.
“In 2015, 2016 and 2017, pit bulls and pit bull mixes were responsible for 10 of the 13 reported ‘level four’ or ‘level five’ attacks,” continued Zhu. “Those are bites in which a dog clamped down and shook or slashed the victim, resulting in one to four holes, including bruising and tears. The difference between level four and five is that the more serious incidents involve a concerted, repeated attack.”
ANIMALS 24-7 data
ANIMALS 24-7 has logged fatal and disfiguring dog attacks on humans in the U.S. and Canada by breed since September 1982.
To date, pit bulls and pit mixes, making up not more than 5.3% of the total dog population, have accounted for 70% of the dogs involved in fatal and disfiguring attacks on humans; have accounted for 65% of the dogs involved in fatal and disfiguring attacks on children, plus 76% of the fatal and disfiguring attacks on adults; have accounted for 427 of 728 dog attack deaths; and have accounted for 4,113 of 5,421 disfigurements total (76%).
So far in 2018, 373 pit bulls and pit mixes have disfigured 298 people, killing 14.
The numbers of pit bulls and pit mixes involved in fatal and disfiguring attacks and numbers of victims would have been records for an entire year as recently as 2012.
The number of fatalities would have tied the record for a full year in 2008, but has been far exceeded in every year since, with at least twice as many coming in each year since 2012. The record, 40, was reached in 2017.