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Bwaks and barks

Council revisits pit bull dog ordinance and chickens in town

By Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer | Sep 27, 2020

It was not part of the regular agenda for Monday’s city council meeting on Sept. 21, but council member Brandon Carlin raised the question of residents keeping a limited number of chickens on in-town properties as well as the issue of non-breed-specific legislation for dog safety. The dog issue has been complicated by the fact that a now-former resident in 2017 won a lawsuit against the city relating to ordinances that focused on a specific category of dog: the bully type, which includes American Staffordshire Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers, Bull Terriers, the newer American Bully breed. Identification of these dogs under the ordinance was contingent on an Estherville Police officer identifying them on sight.

Carlin stated as a committee continues work on non-breed-specific legislation that still protects residents from vicious or dangerous dogs, the issue needs to be addressed soon, given the Oct. 3 dedication of the dog park within Spurgin Park on Estherville’s south side.

Estherville code enforcement officer Greg VanLangen, administrator Penny Clayton, and attorney Jennifer Bennett Finn are working on the new ordinance. Clayton suggested the council schedule a workshop to focus solely on the dog ordinance and “hammer out the details.”

Carlin said, “It is a very important topic.”

Bennett Finn has clarified in the past that a service animal is one specifically trained to assist a person with a disability in performing tasks that help the person overcome or compensate for the disability to some extent, whether it is a service dog, a monkey or ape, or a miniature horse. Housing units and public accommodations must accommodate these animals regardless of type or breed.

The Americans with Disabilities Act does not include an emotional support animal, which provides comfort and a sense of safety simply through their presence. While medical professionals may prescribe the acquisition of these animals, and they might alleviate psychiatric symptoms such as anxiety or depression, even with a note from a qualified medical professional or an online certification, these animals are not protected from restrictions on pets or the presence of animals in a certain place under the law.

In April, 2019, the city council sent a letter to President Trump at the suggestion of Rep. Steve King’s legislative director, asking the White House to clarify due to the lack of federal regulation for emotional support animals under the Fair Housing Act.

The council had written to King in September 2018 requesting guidance as the city faced the challenge of its insurance company making a payment of approximately $23,000 to a dog owner to settle a claim of discrimination and as a condition of settlement treated that pit bull/Labrador mix as any other dog in Estherville, not banned by breed but subject to action should the dog, who had not previously been ruled vicious or dangerous, commit an act that would cause him to be considered vicious or dangerous.

In 2019 a committee had drafted a new city ordinance that would prohibit other breeds in addition to pit-bull types, including Dobermans, Akitas, and Rottweilers. During public hearings about the animal ordinance, supporters of specific dogs then living in Estherville and representatives from the state ASPCA provided to the city council examples of breed-neutral ordinances other cities are using.

These ordinances require a higher level of owner responsibility for every dog than now exists in Estherville’s city code.