A woman walks her dogs in the in the dog park at Andover Central Park Thursday. The no Pit Bulls sign just went up last week. (March 30, 2017) Fernando Salazar The Wichita Eagle
A woman walks her dogs in the in the dog park at Andover Central Park Thursday. The no Pit Bulls sign just went up last week. (March 30, 2017) Fernando Salazar The Wichita Eagle

Pets

‘No pit bulls allowed’: Sign at a dog park sparks anger, backlash

April 03, 2017 06:43 AM

ANDOVER, KANSAS

What happened started small.

But social media spreads information and animosity like wind spreads prairie fire.

Kayla Bishop of Wichita took her dog for a walk on March 26 at the Andover dog park.

She saw a new sign: “No Pit Bulls Allowed.”

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Bishop does not live in Andover, and her dog, Laney Lou, is a beagle/bassett hound mix, not a pit bull. And while the park sign was new, Andover’s citywide pit bull ban that the sign reminds people about is 17 years old, though Bishop didn’t know that then.

But Bishop went home to College Hill and wrote 99 words in a Facebook post that has since blown up in a sometimes profane Facebook argument.

What’s significant is that pit bulls have so much more power in those jaws.

Mike Keller, Andover police chief

“I’m very confused and disheartened,” she began. “We’ve met MANY wonderful and playful pitbulls while attending the dog park. Please share so we can try to gain understanding of this new rule.”

Things got lively after that – and fast.

“Fool,” “idiot,” “scum” and worse, some called each other. People began to argue right there on Bishop’s screen.

Her post has drawn nearly 1,000 shares and 300 comments so far, most of them written by ban opponents and some by angry people sticking up for the ban.

“Maybe we should feed you to the lions,” one commenter wrote to a ban advocate.

Maybe we should feed you to the lions.

A commenter on Facebook, to an advocate of pit bull bans

“I’m all for it,” another man wrote about the ban.

“Your stupid is showing,” a commenter replied to him.

The harsh words, and some attacks on the city of Andover, bothered Bishop, who intended just to say her piece.

But the comment writers kept writing. For days.

“It’s how the dog is raised idiot!!!!” one commenter asserted, replying to another anti-pit commenter. “You are scum of the earth for saying these dogs will kill people and should be banned all together.”

It’s how the dog is raised idiot!!!!

A commenter on Facebook, to an advocate of pit bull bans

Ban supporters put up links in Bishop’s Facebook thread to stories about pit bulls killing people.

Ban opponents then posted pictures in Bishop’s comment thread showing their pit bulls licking the faces of small children. The children were smiling, wet faces and all.

“My daughter sleeps with my big headed beast and he loves her,” one commenter wrote.

Several writers suggested what amounts to civil disobedience: “Us ‘pitbull’ owners should get together and decide to all go to that park at the same time. I mean what exactly is Andover going to do really if there’s too many of us?” one writer wrote.

This bothers Bishop, who says Andover city officials have helped create a great place to live. “I grew up there.”

“But this ban is unfair,” she said. She intends to gather people together, including many of the comment writers, and go to Andover City Hall for a talk. She says the ban should be replaced with something more fair, and she wants to make that case to Andover in a constructive way.

Many people agreed with her, including Diana McCann, who learned from Bishop’s Facebook post that she can’t take her dog to the dog park anymore.

She now thinks she can’t even take her dog Bailey, a pit bull-Staffordshire terrier mix, for a walk outside anymore. She’s not subject to the Andover ban because she lives outside the city limits. But those limits surround her home closely on three sides.

“We started taking our dog to the park last year, since she was 4 months old, and she made lots of friends there,” Barkley-McCann said. “Now we can’t go.

“It makes me so mad. I’ve never seen any aggression in the park, and I’ve seen a few pit bulls there,” she said. “My own dog will cower if she meets another dog.”

Bishop, a Wichita State University student studying finance, is now networking with friends and acquaintances, researching the ban.

If she does approach city hall, City Administrator Mark Detter and police Chief Mike Keller said she will be welcomed. She might have difficulty bringing about change, Detter said.

“The police chief and I are willing to talk to anyone who thinks they have a serious grievance,” Detter said. “I know people are passionate about this. But the mayor has strong feelings about not changing that ordinance, and the city council has decided in the past not to pursue it.”

Dogs bite 4.5 million to 4.7 million people every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, killing 20 to 30 people a year. One in 5 bites become infected, according to the CDC.

Some experts estimate pit bulls do half of all those bites, but experts also say the high percentage of pit bull bites may have less to do with the alleged aggression of the type of dog and more to do with how popular and numerous it is, as well as how pit bulls are trained and treated by owners.

Keller, who has sometimes enforced the city ordinance and ordered the removal of pit bulls from upset Andover residents, has seen how a dog breed or type does not necessarily determine aggression.

“I have a mastiff and a little Maltese at home,” Keller said. “And it’s the little dog that rules.”

McCann, the pit bull owner, knows dogs can be dangerous. Ten years ago near Andale, she said, “I was attacked and badly bitten by a German shepherd. I ended up with bruises and stitches.

“And yet I don’t hate all German shepherds,” she said. “Lots of dogs can be dangerous. My daughter has a Doberman, and I’m scared to death of that dog. But to blame an entire breed – that’s just wrong.”

At least 900 U.S. cities have passed breed-specific dog bans, according to dogsbite.com. All these ordinances and laws target pit bulls, the site says. Several formal breeds actually fall under the pit bull umbrella, including the American pit bull terrier, the American Staffordshire terrier, the American bully and the Staffordshire bull terrier, according to globalanimal.org.

Andover bans pit bulls, not only the obvious ones but mixes in which the predominant appearance is pit bull. Wichita does not but restricts owners to no more than two pit bulls apiece, both of which have to be spayed or neutered. And those Wichita dogs must have an embedded microchip, identifiable to the owner and registered with the city, said police Lt. Joe Schroeder, director of the Wichita City Animal Shelter.

But Schroeder says the real culprits are usually human and that many dog breeds besides pit bulls can hurt people. “We just had a hearing a few days ago about a dog bite situation involving two dogs – and it didn’t involve a pit bull,” Schroeder said.

“I’ve known chihuahuas that will try to take your head off.”

Many U.S. organizations with a stake in this debate oppose breed-specific legislation.

The American Bar Association passed a 2012 resolution calling these laws “panic legislation” and said public safety is best served by laws that target a specific dog or owner behavior.

Until recently, more than 30 cities in Kansas had “breed-specific” ordinances banning pit bulls, said Midge Grinstead, Kansas state director of the Humane Society of the United States. Her organization has directly or indirectly worked to persuade 22 of them to change those laws to more general “dangerous dog” laws that focus on bad owners and specific dogs, she said.

Andover considered a ban in 1988 after a pit bull bit and injured the wife of a city council member. The current ordinance on Andover’s books was first written in 2000, then rewritten twice since then, Detter said.

What’s significant is that pit bulls have so much more power in those jaws.

Mike Keller, Andover police chief

“I have friends who have pit bulls, and they are mostly nice and good dogs,” said Keller, the police chief. “People say it’s not the dog, that it is the owner, and that does make sense. But unfortunately, what’s significant is that pit bulls have so much more power in those jaws. And if you look at the national statistics, a lot of people get bit by pit bulls.”

Wichita animal control staff members face problems weekly with illegal pit bull dog fighting, illegal breeding and unregistered pit bull puppies and dogs, Schroeder said.

In 2016, there were 1,082 bites and attacks in Wichita, and he estimates about 30 percent of those encounters involved pit bulls.

“But I don’t want to come off as anti-pit bull,” he said. “Many pit bull owners are responsible, and their dogs are often sweethearts.

Many pit bull owners are responsible, and their dogs are often sweethearts.

Lt. Joe Schroeder, Wichita’s animal control supervisor

“I’ve been around many pit bulls at the shelter who are sweethearts, and I’ve been around a few where I don’t want to be in the same room with them.

“It mostly comes down to people.

“The worst animal on the face of the planet is the human. We stab, and hurt and kill each other all the time.

“But left alone, most of the time dogs won’t hurt people.”

This year, three breeds are competing for the first time in the Westminster Kennel Club dog show: The American Hairless Terrier, Pumi and the Sloughi. Meet the people who are showing two of the breeds. McClatchyAP

Dogs frolic at a temporary indoor dog park set up this weekend in a Liberty Street warehouse in Kansas City’s West Bottoms. The organizers are with Bar K Lab, a combination dog park/restaurant/event space that will soon begin construction in Richa Allison LongThe Kansas City Star

Roy Wenzl: 316-268-6219, @roywenzl