Public debate and discussion over Ottumwa’s pitbull ban at City Council meeting

Published: Jan. 18, 2022 at 9:04 PM CST
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OTTUMWA, Iowa (KYOU) - It’s been a long time coming. After an October petition gathering over 1,000 signatures, the Ottumwa City Council met to hear from the public about the city-wide pitbull ban. The ban has been in place since 2002, after a child died following a pitbull attack. A controversial topic for a council whose 80% of its members have only been in their position an average of a month.

While many of the petition’s creators and supporters were present at the meeting, so were those against removing the pitbull ban. Both sides shared stories, good and bad, about pitbulls. One woman shared how her Siberian Husky was killed by a pitbull, another about how her pitbull had to be given away after a police call.

For those against, their arguments looked at broader issues than just the dog breed itself. For one, how the ban could deter some people from moving to Ottumwa. “Do we think that anyone looking to move to Ottumwa would make the decision to move to our community if they have a beloved family pet that they would have to rehome to do so?” One supporter said.

Marcia McDaniel, who created the petition, says there are already pitbulls in the city, and that the ban is hard to enforce. “Ottumwa’s ordinance actually give the community a false sense of security, as it actually doesn’t keep the banned breed out of the city.”

Ottumwa Police Officer Jeff Williams, who responds to pitbull calls, spoke about his role, and how identifying a pitbull can include visualization, a vet visit, and, in rare cases, a DNA test.

For those against, they discussed dangerous encounters with pitbulls. Former Ottumwa City Council member Keith Caviness, who voted for the ban in 2002, says their decision might have saved lives. “I can tell you that we may have saved - may have saved - several people’s lives, or at least [from] being bitten.”

As for the council, few members gave their specific opinions on the issues. Though, according to Council Member Marc Roe, that could be intentional. He asked the public to understand their hesitancy when it comes to lifting the ban. “You are asking this City Council to make a decision that, if something bad happens as a result of this, you folks get to walk away from this. This City Council are the five people who [would] have the blood of a child on their hands if this happens again.” However, Roe didn’t seem opposed to changing some of the language of the bill to make it more enforceable.

The Council didn’t take action on the ban, just the public hearing. City staff will likely discuss the next steps before bringing a recommendation to the Council for a vote.

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