Lucy, a mixed breed dog, was adopted from a shelter in Kansas City, MO to a family who later relocated to Leawood, KS. The city had a ban on “any animal having the appearance or characteristics of being predominantly of the breeds known as Pit Bull, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, or American Pit Bull Terrier.” The issue was that Lucy’s family had no idea what breed of dog she was. Their veterinarian said Lucy looked like a Boxer mix, but Leawood Animal Control said Lucy looked more like a “pit bull.” Lucy’s ability to stay with her family was in jeopardy because an Animal Control officer said she was a banned breed.
Animal law attorney and Lawrence local, Katie Barnett, took Lucy’s case through her private law firm, Barnett Law Office, LLC, and enlisted local attorney Adam Hall to assist on the case. “Leawood is one of the few cities still hanging on to the outdated idea that the way a dog looks has anything to do with how safe the dog is,” she said. Fortunately, Lawrence and Douglas County have progressive, breed-neutral laws based on behavior, rather than laws that restrict animals based on subjective characteristics.
Leawood’s City Code requires its residents to guess at what it means for a dog to have the appearance or characteristics of the one of the banned breeds – does the ordinance mean physical characteristics? Behavioral? Or something else altogether? And what if a dog has behavioral characteristics of one of the banned breeds, but not the physical characteristics, is it still banned? The Court was asked to consider this, and many other questions in Lucy’s family’s case.
Shannon Wells, who you might recognize as Lawrence Humane’s Executive Director, served as an expert witness in the case and discussed the impossibility of accurately identifying dogs based on appearance in an animal shelter setting, along with disparity in breed identification among shelter workers, veterinarians, and animal control officers. Her testimony included her experience working in animal shelters and interactions with animal control officers, finding that many times a dog labeled a “pit bull” in one animal shelter did not look like a “pit bull” to an animal control officer, further confusing the adoptive family.
The Court concluded Leawood’s pit bull ordinance is unconstitutional, stating that the City Code “relies on subjective criteria, resulting in an unconstitutionally overbroad ordinance thanks to the lack of objective standards for enforcement.”
We are all so glad that Lucy is home safe with her family. We believe this ruling will also provide protection to other pet owners of mixed breed dogs in Leawood, so they are not at risk of losing their home, family, or life as a result of the city’s breed ban. It’s a win for keeping pets and people together!
We also celebrate this ruling because it means that mixed breed animals adopted from Lawrence Humane into the neighboring community of Leawood will not be at risk under a subjective law. When we match pets and people through adoption we always strive for a happy, secure placement for the lifetime of the pet. We never wish for our adopters to experience the devastation that came come from giving up a beloved pet and family member, especially when it’s because of a law that doesn’t actually provide increased public safety.