116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Dog owners in a small Benton County town have been ordered to get rid of their pets -- accused of violating ordinances that prohibit pit bulls -- and are frustrated over a lack of answers by local officials as the deadline quickly approaches.
Several Keystone residents said they were visited by a member of the Benton County Sheriff’s Office last week and given seven to 10 days to remove the dogs or they will be forcibly removed.
Benton County and the city of Keystone each have ordinances that restrict the ownership of pit bulls. The city’s ordinance states that a dog must be proven to be of a certain breed through a veterinarian-administered DNA test — which the city would have to pay for because it has the burden of proof. The county ordinance goes further, stating that even dogs with “the characteristics” of the breeds outlined in the ordinance are not allowed.
Benton County’s ordinance, adopted in 2000, prohibits “any dog which has the appearances and characteristics of being the breed of Staffordshire terrier, American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, any other breed commonly known as pit bulls, pit bull dogs or pit bull terriers, or a combination of any of these breeds.” The city’s ordinance also lists rottweilers as a prohibited breed.
Typically, city ordinances trump county ordinances in the city limits because counties don’t have jurisdiction there.
“So whoever sent the deputy sheriff out to these homes really didn’t read the city ordinance requiring a vet to make the ID,” said Ledy VanKavage, senior legislative attorney for the Best Friends Animal Society, which is based in Utah.
The warnings were issued by the Benton County Sheriff’s Office because it has a contract with the city of Keystone to provide law enforcement in town.
Animal rights groups and Keystone residents said about 10 families have been ordered to get rid of their dogs, but the city’s mayor, Mark Andresen, said it’s closer to three or four families.
Andresen said the recent enforcement of the ordinance stems from an incident in which a 2-year-old was bitten by a pitbull. The hospital that treated the child reported the injury to the Benton County Sheriff’s Office.
“The city has not sent out notices. The county did because the 2-year-old got bit,” Andresen said Thursday. “But I’m not at liberty to speak to it more because attorneys are involved and it’s all still pending.”
The city’s ordinance states that residents can appeal, and that the written notice of appeal must be filed with the city clerk within two days of receipt of the order to remove an animal.
But residents said they did not receive a written notice.
“We’ve only received a verbal warning from the sheriff’s office,” pit bull owner MaKinzie Brecht said. “The city hasn’t contacted us or given us any paperwork or anything. We haven’t appealed because we haven’t even been given that option.”
Adding to the confusion is the Benton County Sheriff’s Office’s silence in response to the residents’ questions. The office also did not respond to calls or emails from The Gazette on Wednesday or Thursday about the matter.
“Nobody has gotten through to anybody,” Brecht said. “ I was only given a week and my time is up tomorrow (Friday) but my neighbor had 10 days. I’m going to beg my in-laws today to keep him (the dog) for a while but I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
The city’s ordinance states that anyone found possessing or sheltering a “dangerous animal” must “permanently place the animal with an organization or group allowed to possess dangerous or vicious animals, or destroy the animal within three days of receipt of such an order.”
Benton County Board of Supervisors Chair Tracy Seeman told The Gazette that though he has read some of the emails sent to him by residents, he hadn’t talked to any of them.
“I really don’t know nothing about it,” Seeman said. “I know we had an ordinance. I haven’t even read that ordinance. I haven’t talked to anybody yet.”
Humane Society State Director Preston Moore said he talked to Seeman on Thursday morning and requested that an agenda item be added to the county’s Tuesday meeting to discuss alternative “dangerous animal” ordinances. He has also requested that the county and cities of Keystone and Vinton immediately suspend their ordinances for the breed-specific bans and instead talk with the animal groups and families to adopt a breed-neutral ordinance.
“We’ve done some really impactful work around the state and I am hopeful that the supervisors will see there are better ways to do things in this space,” Moore said.
Gabby Gormley, 28, said her 3-year-old boxer-lab mix, Harley, has been put on the list because she “resembles a pit bull.”
“Harley has had no issues or incidents. We have a fenced in backyard. She’s a big old baby,” Gormley said.
Brecht, 25, said her 1-year-old pitbull, Nightmare, has been anything but a bad dream since she’s owned him.
“None of these dogs on the list have bitten anybody,” Brecht. “Nightmare is literally scared of plastic bags.”
Gormley said the idea of having to give up her dog is devastating.
“I’ve lived in Iowa less than 10 years and up until last March, I lived in Cedar Rapids so when we bought a house in Benton County, I never thought to look up ordinances. It’s heartbreaking,” she said.
While Gormley has a plan in place to keep Harley outside of Benton County, Brecht doesn’t know what she’s going to do with Nightmare.
Residents of the community have been working with Best Friends Animal Society and the Humane Society to send letters to officials about changing the ordinances.
“This is a terrible and unnecessary situation taking place in Benton County,” Moore said. “I cannot understand the impact that 10 families having their beloved family pets removed for no cause will have. … Pet owners in Keystone and Benton County at this point have very little reason to believe that their pets are safe from impoundment given the broad definitions and reliance on characteristics of certain breeds.”
VanKavage said she hopes that Keystone and Benton County will adopt the International Municipal Lawyers Association’s model dog ordinance that has become more widely accepted over the years and doesn’t target specific breeds.
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