Three decades after officials in

more than 700 cities throughout

the country began passing bans

and other restrictions to keep

pit bulls out of their communities,

state and local governments are increasingly reconsidering their

approach to what not so long ago was America's most vilified pet.

Since June, at least nine communities in the Midwest have

overturned pit bull bans that were on the books.

Last week, Hallsville, Mo., became the latest to lift its

ban after a family successfully appealed to the City Council

for a change in law when it learned the family dog was a pit bull mix.

Over the past two years, more than 100 municipalities

across the USA have overturned bans and other

restrictions that target dogs in the pit bull family,

the generic term commonly used to describe the

American pit bull terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier

and many mixed-breed dogs with square-shaped

heads and bulky builds.

More communities could soon follow suit.

The unified government of Wyandotte County and

Kansas City, Kan., is considering lifting a pit bull ban

that has been on the books for nearly a quarter-century,

as part of a comprehensive overhaul of its animal control


The push in Kansas City (pop. 148,000) comes as

Roeland Park, Kan. (pop. 6,800) recently began reviewing

its ban on pit bulls. The nearby community of

Bonner Springs announced this year that it was lifting its ban.

Advocates argue the bans have been ineffective in reducing

dog bites and led to millions of dogs being euthanized.

They say too often animal control officials, law enforcement

and the media misidentify offending dogs as pit bulls.

"The only ones that are being affected by these bans are

responsible dog owners,"said Janelle Holland, a pit bull

owner who was forced to leave Roeland Park more

than a decade ago after learning she was violating the ban.

There's been action on the statewide level as well.

This year, South Dakota and Utah joined 17 other

states in passing laws to prevent local governments

passing "breed-specific legislation," or BSL, making

it illegal for cities to pass bans targeting pit bulls or

any other breed. (The South Dakota law went into

effect in July, and Utah's prohibition on pit bull bans

will be law on New Year's Day.)

Breed-specific legislation began spreading in

communities throughout the country in the mid-1980s

after a surge in fatal dog bitings, including a

disproportionate number of incidents initially

attributed to pit bull-type dogs.

The pit bull was popular in illegal dogfighting rings,

and the breed developed a reputation as a favorite

accessory of drug dealers and gangsters.

This month, residents in the Denver suburb

of Aurora, Colo., voted by a 2-to-1 ratio in a

referendum to keep their pit bull ban on the books.

The Aurora vote follows a vote in 2012 in

Miami-Dade County, where voters opted to keep

the ban by a similarly wide ratio.

Jeff Borchardt, an East Troy, Wis.-man whose

14-month-old son, Daxton, was fatally mauled

last year by two pit bulls while being cared for by

a babysitter, says government leaders should

look to the Aurora and Miami examples before overturning bans.

"There's this pro-pit-bull movement that tries to

paint these dogs as nanny dogs and sweet, lovely

and kind," Borchardt said. "It's disgusting,

it's dangerous, and it's irresponsible."

Some groups, including the American Veterinary

Medical Association, the Humane Society and the

American Bar Association, have suggested governments

would be better off focusing attention on problem

animals in a community rather than banning

any particular breed of dog.

The push to end pit bull bans got a boost last year,

when the Obama administration — in response

to opponents of such laws petitioning the White House

— said it was opposed to breed-specific legislation.

Stakeholders on opposite sides of the issue cast

aspersions about the evidence the others use to

back their arguments. A lack of recent government

or third-party data on pit bull bites further muddies

the national conversation.

The National Canine Research Council, which

opposes breed-specific legislation, points to a

2013 study it partly funded that suggests a dog's

environment has more to do than its breed with

the likelihood of a dog making a deadly attack.

The study, published in the Journal of the

American Veterinary Medical Association, of 256 dog

bite-related fatalities from 2000-2009 found

co-occurring factors in more than 80% of the

deadly incidents, such as the absence of an

able-bodied person to stop the attack, a history

of abuse or neglect of the dog and the failure

by owners to neuter the dogs.

"It's becoming more and more obvious that

breed-specific legislation doesn't improve public

safety," says Janis Bradley, director of

communication for the NCRC. "Its purpose is to

reduce injuries from dog bites, but there is no

municipality or state where it's enacted where

they've been able to show that it's accomplished this."

The Center for Disease Control, which opposes

BSL, notes that fatal attacks represent a tiny

fraction of about 4.7 million dog bites Americans

suffer annually and that it's difficult to accurately

calculate bite rates for specific breeds., a group that advocates in favor of

BSL, points to its own research, culled from news

reports of dog-bite-related fatalities, that shows

74% of incidents from 2005 to 2013 involved a

pit bull or Rottweiler.

Colleen Lynn, founder of, dismisses

the suggestion from the CDC and others that BSL doesn't work.

"It's not designed to reduce all dog bites," said Lynn,

who said pit bulls are an inherently aggressive animal.

"It's breed-specific and meant to reduce pit bull

maulings and fatalities."

Even as dozens of American communities abandon

BSL, some ponder its merits.

This year, Riverside, Ala., a community about 40 miles

outside of Birmingham, weighed enacting a pit bull

ban after a 5-year-old boy was fatally mauled by

neighbor's pit bull. City officials opted against it.

Mayor Rusty Jessup said he would prefer not to

have any pit bulls in his community of 3,000.

Jessup said he didn't think his community could

enforce such a ban or even positively determine

the breeds of dogs.

"We were just afraid that we were going to get

situations where we're trying to enforce this and

people are saying, 'That dog's not a pit bull,

it's a boxer,'" Jessup said. " And doggone it, who

are we going to have to make that determination?"