From The Ethics Alarms “It’s About Time!” Files: Iowa Strikes Down A “Dangerous Animal” Ordinance

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…



35 thoughts on “From The Ethics Alarms “It’s About Time!” Files: Iowa Strikes Down A “Dangerous Animal” Ordinance

  1. This is indeed ridiculous. My neighbor’s cat once came into our yard and insisted on provoking a fight with my much larger cat. My cat was 15 years old and dying of lung cancer and really just wanted to be left alone. The smaller cat persisted and my cat proceeded to teach the youngster that age and guile are forces to be reckoned with. My cat took the other cat’s head in his mouth, with his lower teeth on the smaller cat’s throat and crushed. When the younger cat lost consciousness, I screamed at my cat and he casually put the neighbor’s cat’s head on the ground, walked over to me, and meowed at me, annoyed. The other cat woke up from his ‘nap’ several seconds later, ran home, and didn’t bother my cat again. A friendlier cat towards people you will never meet. Towards annoying intruding cats…lethal. Such is the nature of cats and every cat owner better understand that before they let their cat outside.

    • Our previous Jack Russell, Dickens, deposited two large dead rats on our doorstep during his lifetime. Terriers kill rats. That’s what they do. Viciousness has nothing to do with it.

      • “Terriers kill rats. That’s what they do. Viciousness has nothing to do with it.”

        How can you assert this but also counter anyone making the claim that some breeds inherently go after any living creature?

        I get that the analysis regarding the so-called “Pit Bull” breeds is inaccurate…but the principle of bred-in aggressive behavior *must be* as valid as the claim that Terriers have a bred-in tendency to go after rats.

        • The idea of the incurably aggressive pitbull breed was always nonsense because if that was the case, they would be useless even as security dogs, and only good for fights. Their history clearly contradicts this.

          On the other hand, terriers were bred for hunting small game, and that tendency is still prevalent with those breeds.

          • I don’t want my comment to be confusing.

            When I said “I get that the analysis regarding the so-called “Pit Bull” breeds is inaccurate…” I meant that I get that the analysis (that Pit Bulls are bred to be aggressive) is inaccurate.

            Then went on to say that the general principle involved in such accusations is this:

            “Predisposition for particular behavior can be bred into dogs.”

            “Going after rats has been bred into terriers”
            “Being aggressive towards anything has been bred into ‘pit bulls'”

            The first appears accurate, the latter is not true, but the principle is either valid or it is invalid. If it is invalid, then the comment regarding terriers is inaccurate on principle, if it is valid, then the comment regarding pit-bulls is merely inaccurate because stats and history don’t support the claim.

            Jeff, below, describes how I’ve always understood the effects of breeding – that it doesn’t enhance or mitigate particular attitudes or behaviors but rather enhances or mitigates particular physical traits which may lead to greater fulfillment of the objects of particular attitudes or behaviors.

        • Virtually all dogs will go after a rat. It’s instinctive predator behavior. Terriers (I say this a little Cairn/Yorkie mix sleeps by my feet) aren’t really more or less prone to go after rats than, say, a German Shepherd or Husky. They’re just much, much better at catching them. That’s where the breeding comes in – the size/speed/agility that’s bred into terriers makes them excellent rat-killers. The instinct to chase prey animals is there in all dogs.

          • This is how I understand it. Jack’s comment however appears to make a claim regarding behavior *more specific* to a particular breeding regimen. I may be misreading his comment.

            • No, you read it right. Terriers were mostly bred in the British Isles to attack and kill vermin. Other dogs may chase rats, but they usually won’t kill them. Hunting dogs, like pointers and setters, are bred specifically not to chase and kill prey. A normal mastiff will not chase a smaller animal to kill it. Terriers will chase balls endlessly, because that feeds into the old rat instincts. Domesticated dogs are all bred NOT to attack people. You have to pervert that tendency to get a truly vicious dog.

              A Yorkie won’t go after a rat because rats are bigger than they are…

              • But if that is an accurate formula — that you can selectively breed to accentuate a particular behavior or attitude, then you should be able to selectively breed to accentuate all around aggressiveness.

                Which follows then that some breeds may be more aggressive than others (even if it isn’t the so-called “Pit Bull” breeds).

              • A Yorkie won’t go after a rat because rats are bigger than they are…

                THAT THERE WAS FUNNY… I don’t care who you are.

                I have a Pomchi/Black Rat terrier (look it up) mix. She is a little coward… and smaller than almost anything.

                Once she stood off two does who were threatening her owner (by walking by) and was impressive until she looked back and noticed I was 50 feet away, having left her to face the deer alone. The “oh crap” look on her face and the hastily executed tactical retreat still make me laugh to this day.

                However, she is still a dog. Once a large black lab mix was brought to our door by friends, and slipped into the house. I heard a sound the little dog had never made, but recognized from having dogs all my life: the “I’m about to tear you a new asshole!” growl. I turned and caught her in mid leap as she went after a dog who was at least 15 times her mass. Saved her life, too: that dog could have swallowed her in one gulp, and looked for more of those obliging little flying snacks!

                My beagle/hound mix (yes we always get rescue dogs) has a habit of staring into your eyes with that soulful countenance. I told my son that it was dangerous to stare down a dog at close range, face to face. Sure enough, eventually the dog licked him right on the mouth! He just cannot help the instinct to relate a higher member in the pack.

                Dogs act like dogs. Even when it has been bred out of them, they still, when put to the test, act like dogs.

                • Hear, hear, slick. I gotta admit to a 50 year love affair with Malamutes, but they are not house dogs, being sled dogs, and I cannot afford a fence for my half-acre. Add to that, our summers would make them HORRIBLY uncomfortable. So, I settle for being owned by a cat.

        • I have meant to undertake this same thought many times, but never have the time. Dogs are bred for different things and do it. Shepherds will herd anything that moves; retrievers will retrieve; and, as someone told me once, greyhounds will chase balls, but, unlike retrievers, are not inclined to bring them back (bad retrievers; great racers).

          • Our Retrievers (Labradors) are apparently bred to bring a thrown ball back to within 10 feet of me and then drop the ball.

            But even the comment regarding Shepherds sounds more behavior/attitude breeding instead of feature breeding…

            • Regards shepherds, my family had a border collie when U was growing up, who never so much as glimpsed a sheep in his life. But he still loved to “herd” our horses by running around the corral and barking until they went where he wanted. He learned very quickly if he went inside to herd them they’d kick him.

  2. I’ve a cat, Bandit, big black, unfixed, not 100% bright, but h is fearless, and aggressive. His front paws, with claws extended, are bigger than a 50-cent piece, smaller than a cartwheel. Woe betide any dog in the neighborhood that tries him on one-for-one.

  3. Not a cat lover, huh Jack?

    Isn’t that picture of the cat kind of like putting up an unflattering picture of HRC, or Trump?

    • As the owner of multiple cats, I can say that that photograph accurately reflects the inner life of a cat. They may be lovable and affectionate, but don’t ever for a second think they don’t have a plan to kill you and everyone you love if necessary.

      Owning a cat is like being married to a foreign spy – they can perform an amazing simulation of loving behavior, but they’re dead behind the eyes. When the order comes down, they’ll shred your face into cole slaw, set the house on fire, and never look back. An aggressive dog will be aggressive as soon as you encounter him. A cat will bide his time, studying you and looking for weakness.

      • With a cat…you accidentally step on its tail…it holds a grudge for weeks.

        You accidentally step on a dog’s tail? It’s response?

        “Gee master, I sure love you! This is an interesting way to play with me…it kinda hurts…but you love me and I love you so I guess I’m cool with it! I sure love you master! Have I told you lately how much I love you?”

        • I assume Jeff is kidding for the most part. I’ve had a number of cats (none since the mid-nineties) and none of them were of the sociopathic order depicted in certain greeting cards and cartoons. Are they as loving as dogs? No, of course not, they’re cats. But they aren’t secretly evil either.

          • They are sociopaths, though. Dogs really show remorse, shame. Cats do what they want to do and have to do. If we are upset, dogs are upset. Cats communicate, “What the hell is the matter with you?”

            • If I’m upset… my cat comes try to lay on my lap or otherwise becomes more cuddly. I don’t think they feel guilt or remorse or anything, but I’m not sure sociopath is accurate. Depends on breed and individual probably.

          • Kidding, yes – for the most part. We have two cats that are siblings we’ve had since we found them on the roadside as tiny, barely weaned kittens. They couldn’t be more different. The male has the brain of a dog. He’s loving and loyal and sweet as pie. The female is the sociopath cat you see in cartoons. He’s huge, she’s small. He’s dumb as a post, she’s clever and cunning. She hunts and kills anything small that gets inside the house, and he waits until it’s been dispatched to come over and eat it. Should’ve named them Yin and Yang.

    • No, I like cats. My first two animal companions were cats. But I would never trust one the way I trust dogs.

      A friend of ours had a small dog and a cat of the same size. The dog wanted to be friends, the cat hated the dog. Soon after the dog entered the household, dog droppings began turning up everywhere. The family tried and tried to train the dog, but as soon as he was left alone, the episodes continued. Finally they gave up, and brought the dog to a shelter.

      And when they got home, there were more of the droppings, with the cat sitting there, they said…smiling.

  4. Well, then there is this lovely action by a real estate developer in Kentucky, unilaterally declaring that homeowners in his subdivision may no longer own certain breeds of dogs. This is his list:

    German Shepherds
    Doberman Pinschers
    Pit Bulls (including American Staffordshire Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers and “any dogs containing characteristics of these breeds”)
    Alaskan Malamutes
    Great Danes
    St. Bernards

    You would/might expect this kind of lunacy from homeowners associations, but even the HOA president has no idea what is happening.


    • St. Bernards and Great Danes? Some of the other breeds are pretty commonly the focus of dog breed bigotry, so I’m not surprised that this idiot is picking on them, but Danes? Is there a sweeter, more eager-to-please breed of dog than the Great Dane?

      • Reminds me of when my condo HOA of past years tried to pass a dog weight limit. They would grandfather any existing dog (which always gets my goat- I HATE grandfather clauses). Turns out they were trying to ‘help’ an elderly couple who had gotten tangled up IN THEIR OWN LEASH, not because of the dog, fallen and broken a wrist and gotten some bruises. The board even had the weight of the dog in question off- it wasn’t a 50-pound pooch- it was maybe 20, soaking wet. The board didn’t get the vote, because once everyone found out what they were doing, everyone, including NON-dog owners, told them they were idiots. But they were convinced they could save that elderly couple from ever falling again. Um, no, no one can…

        • Nope. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. For the record, no dog involved and I was not drunk at the time…just fell. Rather painful, as I broke my nose…again…in the fall. Bled like a stuck pig, too. I’m lucky…no HOA. Probably try to make it illegal to go the bathroom after lights out.

  5. Dogs have masters. Cats have staff.
    Both have individual personalities that vary, but based on this fundamental foundation.
    Dog politics are very hierarchical. Cat politics are as backstabbing as anything in government or bureaucracy.

    Our family has been adopted by seven cats. They are feline family members, we their eccentric but loved retainers.

    I’m a dog person, but cats like me. They know a soft touch when they see one.

    • Your last paragraph reminds me of something I’ve thought for a while. People often say that they are a “cat person” or “dog person”. Anyone can be a “dog person”. There are no barriers to entry there. Dogs will accept anyone who isn’t currently kicking them.

      On the other hand, you don’t get to decide if you’re a cat person or not. Oh, you may adore cats, you may worship them and dote on their every whim. But cats get to decide if you’re a cat person, and there is no appeal process. I have a friend who claims she’s a cat person, but every cat I’ve ever seen her interact with seems to hate her. Her own three pet cats have a hostile, barely-tolerant attitude toward her, like prisoners to a warden. It’s quite sad, because she loves cats, but the cats never seem to give her any reciprocal affection. I’ve also known people who say they hate cats, to whom cats are compulsively attracted. Again, there is no appeal to this decision.

  6. Jeff wrote,

    “Oh, you may adore cats, you may worship them and dote on their every whim. But cats get to decide if you’re a cat person, and there is no appeal process.” That is truth! Once we realize that it’s a cat’s world and they allow us to live in it, we will get along just fine with cats.


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