OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Overland Park will soon consider revising the city’s dangerous dog ordinance to eliminate a breed-specific ban on pit bulls.
Paul Lyons, city councilmember and chair of the Overland Park Public Safety Committee, said the committee will be collecting feedback from the public on the future of the ordinance.
Overland Park enacted the original restrictions on pit bulls in 1986. At that time, the restriction required a person to keep their pet in a fenced area and keep the animal muzzled in public settings. The policy also required pet owners to maintain additional homeowners insurance to cover the cost of damage the animal might cause.
“When that was enacted, they came up with a 10-point checklist that identified, visually, the characteristics of an animal that was considered to be a pit bull,” Lyons said.
The checklist criteria was challenged by residents, making it all the way to the Kansas Supreme Court. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in favor of Overland Park, saying the checklist was an acceptable way to identify a pit bull.
“In 2006, the city passed an outright ban,” Lyons said. “That was a result of a lot of publicity, both in the local area and from around the country, where children had primarily been allegedly attacked by pit bulls and in some cases even killed by the animal.”
Dogs identified as an American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier are banned inside the city limits. The ban also includes mixed breed dogs that have characteristics similar to pit bull breeds.
Katie Barnett is an attorney representing residents in Overland Park who want to see the ordinance change.
“We know now that behavior and breed are not interconnected, especially when it comes to mixed breed dogs. Environment plays a much larger factor in the behavior of an animal,” Barnett said.
Barnett said lifting the breed-specific guidelines in the ordinance would allow pit bulls to be treated the same as other dogs if a biting incident were to occur.
Under the current city ordinance, if an animal bites someone and it’s reported, the incident is investigated by Overland Park Animal Control. Depending on the severity of the situation, a pet owner might pay a fine, but the animal is not removed on first offense. If the animal bites someone a second time, it must be removed from the city.
The rule does not apply to animals identified as a pit bull. Animals identified as pit bulls are automatically removed from the city.
“This is a complex issue. Really drilling down to figure out those other factors is how we keep communities safe. Not looking at a dog and saying ‘I think you look dangerous, because you have a boxy head and short hair’. That doesn’t keep our community safe,” Barnett said.
If approved Overland Park will join a growing list of cities to repeal bans against pit bull breeds including:
- Shawnee, KS (2016)
- Roeland Park, KS (2015)
- Prairie Village, KS (2020)
- Grandview, MO (2015)
- Kansas City, KS (2019)
- Liberty, MO (2019)
The Public Safety Committee will host a panel discussion on May 11. On June 9, the committee will take public feedback on the issue during a public hearing. If the committee votes to recommend changes to the ordinance, it will then move on to the city council for final approval.
“If we do end up changing the dangerous animal ordinance then we would probably make some modifications to the dangerous animal ordinance, perhaps to look at issues such as the severity of the bite and some other extenuating circumstances when an attack occurs,” Lyons said.
Lyons wasn’t part of the council when the ban was passed in 2006. He says right now he is neutral on the issue, but feels because of the nature of the topic, the public hearing should be held in-person if public health guidance allows.
“My main concern is for people to be comfortable that when they come and express their opinion that they can actually do that. I felt doing it online through a Zoom meeting wasn’t going to work. We have to have the ability to have people stand up to a microphone, look at their representatives and give their opinions,” Lyons said.