Rules on pit bulls to be relaxed

Enumclaw and Buckley can still ban “dangerous breeds,” but individual dogs that pass a class must be exempted from the ban.

Enumclaw’s outright prohibition on pit bulls is expected to change at the start of 2020. This sign, at the south end of the Foothills Trail, makes the city’s current position clear. Photo by Kevin Hanson

Enumclaw’s outright prohibition on pit bulls is expected to change at the start of 2020. This sign, at the south end of the Foothills Trail, makes the city’s current position clear. Photo by Kevin Hanson

When it comes to pit bulls, the city of Enumclaw has long maintained a strict “keep out” policy.

There’s absolutely no gray area when it comes to the much-maligned dog: the Enumclaw Municipal Code strictly prohibits pit bulls within the city limits. Owners found in possession of such dogs are told to get rid of them quickly or face legal consequences, with enforcement action turned over to King County Animal Control.

But change is in the air and it’s positive news for pit bull fans and families. Earlier this year, the state Legislature deemed that exemptions be made to current pit bull rules and the city of Enumclaw is following suit. An ordinance was supported during the City Council’s meeting on June 24 and is expected to receive final passage on July 8.

The bottom line, barring a surprising turn of events: after Jan. 1, 2020, pit bulls will be allowed in town. But it’s not as simple as some might think — there’s a significant hurdle dog owners will have to clear.

ENUMCLAW’S CURRENT LAW

The city has outlawed pit bulls since 1990 and is one of 27 jurisdictions throughout the state imposing some sort of breed-specific ban. In many cases, it’s limited to pit bulls but some cities and towns have included Rottweilers and certain types of mastiffs.

City code defines a pit bull as “any Bull Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, or Staffordshire Bull Terrier or American Staffordshire Terrier breed of dog.” Also outlawed is any mixed breed that includes any of the four types.

The city’s prohibition was last tested in 2014 when citizens, along with the Olympic Kennel Club, asked that the city reconsider its breed-specific ban. Testimony was taken from both sides and, in the end, members of the City Council chose to keep the existing rule in place.

The city code does make allowances for pit bulls participating in a sanctioned dog show or serving as a licensed service animal.

THE LEGISLATURE ACTS

Action taken in Olympia impacts any jurisdiction that presently imposes prohibitions on dogs based solely on its breed, a practice commonly referred to as breed-specific legislation (BSL). The Legislature made clear its belief that dogs should be judged individually, based on their behavior, rather than public perception.

The new legislation states: “While the legislature recognizes that local jurisdictions have a valid public safety interest in protecting citizens from dog attacks, the legislature finds that a dog’s breed is not inherently indicative of whether or not a dog is dangerous and that the criteria for determining whether or not a dog is dangerous or potentially dangerous should be focused on the dog’s behavior.”

Simply, the state will continue to allow bans on certain breeds, but options will be made available to pit bull owners.

The new canine legislation passed the state House of Representatives by a healthy 66-29 margin; it had a tougher time in the Senate, where it was approved by a slim 25-23 margin. All three lawmakers from the 31st Legislative District – House members Morgan Irwin and Drew Stokesbary, plus Phil Fortunato in the Senate – were on the losing end, having voted against the bill. It was signed into law April 30.

What the Legislature approved – and Enumclaw now supports – is a plan that will allow pit bulls who have passed a test proving they’re fit for city living.

The industry standard is the Canine Good Citizen Program, a product of the American Kennel Club. Effective Jan. 1, any pit bull passing the Good Citizen test will be allowed in Enumclaw. The allowance is good for two years and is eligible for renewal. The new city code also will allow dogs that pass a “behavioral test” equivalent to the AKC’s program.

WHAT ABOUT BUCKLEY?

The story is much the same in Buckley, another example of where pit bulls are prohibited.

The Buckley Municipal Code speaks generally of “dangerous dogs.” The exact text indicates “It is unlawful for any person to have in their possession, or to allow to be maintained upon premises within their possession or control, a dog found to be dangerous.”

So, what is considered a dangerous dog in Buckley? The Municipal Code again offers three definitions including, “Any dog of the breed American pit bull terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, or American Staffordshire terrier” or any dog including a mix of any of the above.

Buckley will need to take action to stay in compliance with state law.

City Administrator Dave Schmidt has taken tentative steps, but there’s not yet a sense of urgency. “We know we need to make some revisions, we just haven’t gotten to it yet,” he said. Schmidt figures the City Council will adopt new language in the city code before fall.

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