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Avoiding a canine Greek tragedy

By Staff | Mar 24, 2017

A 21-year-old student at Iowa Lakes Community College addressed the city council at its Monday evening meeting. Andrew Ian Tate has been defending his two American Bully (a separate breed from American Pit Bull) dogs, shared with his fiance, for the last six months.

The issue arises from a city ordinance preventing the couple from owning the breed within city limits. Tate has been charged for a third time in the past nine months with keeping a dangerous/vicious animal, a violation of city code 3-20.8. Tate was assessed a $100 fine plus court costs by magistrate David Forsyth on July 20, 2016 and Jan. 18, 2017, and was charged again with the same charge March 9. That case goes to pretrial conference April 4.

In a letter to the city council, Tate said, “the dogs are certified to myself and my fiance as emotional support dogs in order to help mine as well as my fiance’s bad anxiety.”

Tate also has a hearing with Police Chief Brett Shatto. Tate said Shatto has allowed some time to get the dogs trained and certified so they can stay in the city, but because they are banned from the city limits, there is a risk of an order to euthanize the dogs, Tate said.

“We will not be taking action on this until your pending issues are resolved,” city administrator Penny Clayton said at the city council meeting.

Tate and his fiance, Inez, plan to move from Estherville back to their southern California home community this summer, once Tate graduates from Iowa Lakes Community College, and their lease is up in late July. They’ll take their dogs, Achilles and Athena, with them when they go.

Achilles and Athena are also in school, scheduled to achieve their support dog certifications through Sit Means Sit in the Twin Cities.

On a recent walk along the Spurgin Park trail, Achilles and Athena appeared calm, and very bonded to their humans. Athena, described as “a total lover,” wanted to jump up and give hugs and kisses to everyone. Achilles was more reserved, but seemed friendly with anyone who was friends with Andrew and Inez. Passersby at some distance called out, “Your dogs are so cute!”

Later, a group of trail walkers asked if they could pet the dogs, and it turned into a love fest.

Tate said, “No dog should be deemed dangerous simply because of breed. They should be judged on any vicious acts they have committed.”

One of the problematic issues with a variety of breeds that resemble the American Pit Bull is the fact that these dogs with a short coat, wide head and muscular build are not a single breed. According to the AKC, pit bull is not a breed, but a descriptor of several breeds, including American bulldog, American Staffordshire terrier, American pit bull terrier, English bull terrier, and of American Bully dogs like Achilles and Athena. The Bully became a recognized breed in the mid-2000s after breeders in Virginia and Los Angeles began mixing American Pit Bulls with Staffordshire terriers, and sometimes with dogs outside the bully group.

According to Best Friends for Life rescue, people misidentify dogs with these characteristics, which may or may not be a mixed breed including one or more of these breeds. Dog experts have misidentified dogs without any of these breeds in their DNA; the DNA of these dogs who have some of the physical characteristics of a bully breed often does not have enough specific material to identify even one main breed from the DNA, according to the AKC.

Tate presented articles about pit bulls called “Vicktory” dogs, who had received therapy and overcome abuse and trauma, as well as having been bred as fighters, from their time involved in the dog fighting rings of NFL player Michael Vick several years ago. According to reports and videos from Best Friends Sanctuary, the rescue that took in 22 of the most traumatized dogs, many earned their Canine Good Citizen certificate and went on to thrive in loving homes. Others became certified as service and therapy dogs. Only two of the 22 were ordered by the court to remain at Best Friends for Life. Best Friends calls bans on pit bull terriers “breed discrimination.”

Tate agrees. “When it is beneficial [to those in need] such as those of special necessities (service animals, emotional support animals) then it makes good sense to support the removal or the change of Estherville Code 3-20.8 for the better,” Tate said in his letter.

Tate presented three suggested courses of action to the city council: 1) revise the city code to remove the ban on certain breeds of dog within city limits; 2) allowing exceptions to the code for all breeds of service and emotional support animals; 3) mandating that allegedly dangerous breeds earn a certification such as the Canine Good Citizen certification, a 10-step evaluation through the American Kennel Club.

“Thank you for the information,” Mayor Kenny Billings said. “We won’t take any action tonight, but after your pending issue is resolved, you are welcome to return to discuss a change to the ordinance.”?