A dog attack in Lemon Park last month and resulting discussions at Pratt City Commission meetings brought to the forefront a need for better enforcement of dangerous animal laws in Pratt.
Dangerous, breed-specific and safety issues regarding dogs could have put the Pratt City Commission meeting in the dog house Monday, but instead an hour-long discussion resulted in a plan to register and fine dog owners not in compliance with current city ordinance.
Pratt city residents, or those in attendance at the city meeting who had a vested interest, were invited to voice opinions about the city’s current Dangerous Animal Ordinance 1804 early in the meeting.
The focus on dogs stemmed from a report at the February 19 city commission meeting by resident Troy McEachern who told commissioners his dog was attacked by a pit bull in Lemon Park. He asked commissioners to reconsider the change they made last May from the breed-specific ban on pit bulls to a “dangerous dog” ban.
Pratt City Attorney Regina Probst set ground rules for the discussion and provided audience members with printed copies of “Ground Rules for Contentious Topics,” which stated a three-minute time limit.
“I know that this particular issue can cause high emotion on both sides,” Probst said. “We’ve got to keep our discourse friendly. We’ve got to keep our discourse professional. We need to respect each other.”
She highlighted the case for each side of the debate.
Those on the “breed-specific” side, Probst said, feel that an ordinance banning breed –specific dogs is needed to protect elderly and children. And, on the “dangerous dog” side, families with controversial breeds often consider their dog as family, and that taking away their dog would be like taking away a child.
“We need to decide together with open debate what is the best thing for the citizens of this municipality,” Probst said. "We need to keep the discussion fact-based, not emotion-based.”
Mark Walker of Preston, owner of the pit bull involved in the Lemon Park attack, was the first from the audience to step to the podium. He recounted the McEachern incident at Lemon Park and said that he has walked his dog at Lemon Park for eight years without issue.
Troy and Donna McEachern each recounted the recent pit bull attack on their dog at Lemon Park that occasioned Troy’s request for commissioners to revisit and reconsider the city ban on pit bulls and his request for the pit bull ban to be reinstated.
Taking her turn to speak, Pratt Area Humane Society Manager April Hemphill said she thought the matter had been decided last May when the city commissioners adopted the current “Dangerous Dog” ordinance.
“We’ve adopted out so many pit bulls this year, I don’t know what we’re going to do about that,” Hemphill said.
Others voicing their thoughts to commissioners included Gene Messick, former city commissioner Gary Skaggs, and Foy O’Neal, father-in-law of commissioner Jason Leslie.
O’Neal cited horror stories of pit bull attacks that he had knowledge of from his years as a Shelter Insurance agent.
Messick encouraged commissioners to keep the existing ordinance in place.
“I hope you make the right decision to allow people to have their pets,” Messick said.
Skaggs asked what commissioners had found from other cities.
“I’d like to know what you discovered,” Skaggs said. “I feel that having a breed-specific ordinance places a police officer in a difficult position of having to determine a dog’s breed.”
It was also noted that the term “pit bull” does not identify a specific breed, but is the common name for dogs descended from bulldogs and terriers, with American Bully, American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire and Staffordshire Bull Terrier as the representative species.
From breed-specific to dangerous dogs, the discussion turned to dog registration.
“We have been trying to get dog registrations for years,” said audience member Lori Stroda, applauding the idea.
Hemphill said the humane society is set up to facilitate registration and would be able to take on the responsibility.
Concluding the about hour-long discussion, city commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of a motion by Leslie--who cast the lone dissenting vote when the pit bull ban was lifted last year--and seconded by commissioner Zach Deeds, to evaluate the registration of dogs in city limits and to evaluate and review the current fines and penalties for non-compliance of the existing ordinance.
Commissioner Don Peters voted in favor of the motion. Mayor Meyer and commissioner Gary Schmidt dissented.
City commissioners also approved an ordinance regulating the sale of beer containing not more than six percent alcohol, which Probst said will assure that all malt-beverage license holders in the city will continue in compliance under the new beer law going into effect April 1.
Mayor Meyer recognized and welcomed Cub Scout Talon Messick as an audience member.