Pinky was a happy, healthy pet dog until March 2016, when a friend visiting Pinky’s owner let her into the yard unsupervised. The neighbor’s cat, Rebel, had wondered into the yard, and Pinky had the feline in his maw until her owner ran out and commanded her to drop it. Rebel survived the trauma, but needed three dozen staples for her wounds.
Pinky was impounded after the city’s humane officer declared her a dangerous animal under the city ordinance. Of course, Pinky is a pit bull mix, so bias was already working against her. The Des Moines ordinance that bans the keeping of “dangerous animals” includes banning any animal “that has exhibited vicious propensities in present or past conduct, including such that the animal … has bitten another animal or human that causes a fracture, muscle tear, disfiguring lacerations or injury requiring corrective or cosmetic surgery.”
Such an ordinance could only be written by someone willfully ignorant of the behaviors of dogs as well as the vicissitudes of moral luck. Our wonderful and gentle English Mastiff, Patience, for example, once caused a bloody wound to my wife’s scalp when she gave the dog an unexpected buss on the muzzle. The dog jerked her head in surprise, nicking my wife’s head with a tooth. The wound bled profusely, and required stitches—and it was 100% my wife’s fault. Patience literally wouldn’t hurt a fly…indeed, she was afraid of flies.
As for Rebel, any cat that invades a dog’s home turf is asking for trouble.
Pinky’s banishment—as in “execution”— was overturned by the Iowa Court of Appeals, which ruled that the ordinance was unconstitutionally vague as applied to Pinky. Judge Mary Tabor, writing for the majority, said that the city’s ordinance left too much discretion to city officials. Does a disfiguring bite prove viciousness? (No, it’s moral luck.) Shouldn’t evidence of the the dog’s typical demeanor and past gentle conduct be mitigating evidence?
“It is difficult to imagine how any Des Moines pet owner would know whether an altercation between their pet and another animal would spur the humane officer to declare their pet dangerous,” Tabor wrote. “An outdoor cat that snares an unlucky bird and breaks its wing could be declared a dangerous animal under [the relevant section of the ordinance]. But would the humane officer pursue such a case?”
There’s the rub: this ordinance encourages bias and ignorance to run wild in . “What if, instead of a cat, an aggressive opossum had been waiting for Pinky in the backyard”, the judge asked.
The ordinance was written incompetently, presumably because the authors thought, “What the hell, it’s just an animal,” and “If it saves one life, that justifies it.” Meanwhile, Pinky’s owner gave the dog to an animal shelter that could afford to challenge the ordinance, and poor Pinky has been without a loving home for two years.
But Rebel is pleased, I’m sure…