116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
KEYSTONE — After weeks of worry that their pets would be removed from their homes, pit bull owners in the Benton County town of Keystone are working with the city to find solutions that will allow them to keep the animals.
The city and the county have breed-specific ordinances that ban specific dog breeds. In addition to Keystone’s ban on pit bulls, Benton County’s ordinance also prohibits dogs that have “the characteristics” of pit bulls.
In July, about 10 families received verbal warnings from the Benton County Sheriff’s Office that they were in violation of ordinances banning pit bulls. The city does not have its own police department, so it contracts with the sheriff’s office to provide law enforcement in town.
In early September, four dog owners in town were served written notices to remove their dogs from town. But Benton County Sheriff Ron Tippett told The Gazette last week that no dogs have been removed from town.
Instead, dog owners met with city officials Sept. 20 and the animals were offered a reprieve, as long as their owners meet requirements.
Keystone resident and dog owner MaKinzie Brecht was one of the dog owners who received a written notice just before Labor Day. She and two other residents appealed those notices.
Under her agreement with the city, Brecht must install a 6-foot fence — embedded into the ground — around her home. She also is required to register her animals. She can walk only one of her three pit bulls at a time and her dogs must be muzzled when they’re on a walk. Brecht also has her dogs registered as emotional support animals.
“Although my dogs are safe, it is very frustrating knowing they can't live as normal dogs do. They now have to be treated as prisoners basically,” Brecht said. “That's why I'm continuing this fight because we should not have to walk on eggshells in our own home and backyard being on our best behavior.”
Tippett said he thinks the solutions provided to the dog owners are reasonable.
“In the end, I think there was a good resolution under the law that allowed people to keep their dogs with some concessions because they are listed under the ordinance and I think everyone worked together to come up with a solution,” Tippett said.
However, Brecht said she doesn't feel like the issue is resolved and said that because of her experience, she is considering moving out of Keystone. But she still wants the ordinance overturned.
“Personally, I don’t think it’s ever going to end for me because I’ve pissed people off,” she said. “I’ve had people driving by to see if I’ve worked on the fence. I feel I’m being watched and picked on at this point. … We’ve been talking about moving next spring. We don’t want the city to think just because we move, the problems are gone. We don’t know whether to stay and fight or leave and keep fighting it.”
Repeated attempts by The Gazette to reach city officials in Keystone were unsuccessful.
State Humane Society Director Preston Moore said the issue in Keystone is an example of the vagueness of breed-ban codes and enforcement.
“We also see in Benton County another huge enforcement issue in that Benton County’s ordinance just says if a dog looks like a certain thing, it’s prohibited,” Moore. “Who is to decide? Most people, even vets, aren't 100 percent on identifying breeds without genetic testing.”
The breed ban enforcement in Keystone began after a 2-year old girl was attacked June 18 by a “stray or abandoned pit bull-style dog.” The girl was taken to a hospital, and her father contacted authorities. Law enforcement took the dog to a veterinary clinic in Belle Plaine. An owner for the dog was never identified and the animal was euthanized.
Breed-specific legislation has been rejected by many groups including the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Bar Association, National Animal Control Association, American Kennel Club, Association of Professional Dog Trainers, National Canine Research Council and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Iowa, dozens of cities have breed-specific bans. They include Belle Plaine, Cascade, Centerville, Columbus Junction, Council Bluffs, Monticello, Ottumwa, Vinton, Walcott, Waukon and Winterset, among other small cities.
Some state governments have prohibited cities from adopting ordinances that ban certain dog breeds. Those include Iowa neighbors Illinois, Minnesota and South Dakota.
“In a lot of communities that have breed prohibitions or regulations, the enforcement is incredibly arbitrary,” Moore said. “We saw examples of that with Keystone. It just shows on the surface, this isn’t really doing much.”
A proposal to prohibit cities and counties from banning dogs based on their breed, introduced by Republican state Sen. Chris Cournoyer, of LeClaire, received an initial legislative hearing in 2021 but never advanced. Similar bills introduced by minority-party Democrats were never considered.
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