By Devin Felix, The Herald Journal
A family has been separated from their beloved pet for more than six weeks, but they hope a decision by the Preston City Council will bring them back together.
The separation is due to a city ordinance enacted in 1991, which classifies all Staffordshire bull terriers — also known as pit bulls — as “vicious animals,” and places restrictions on keeping them in the city.
The council plans to consider the issue at its meeting Monday, and the Tolmans hope the members will vote to remove the portion of the law that singles out pit bulls.
“I favor vicious dog laws, but I think they should be based on merit and have their foundation on the responsibility of the owner,” Elden Tolman said.
On June 1, the Tolmans’ 10-year-old daughter was walking the dog on a leash. She was approached by a Preston police officer, who asked what breed the dog was, Elden Tolman said. Soon, Police Chief Val Sparrow visited the family at their home and told them the city’s vicious animal law bans pit bulls within city limits unless they are kept inside an “absolutely secure enclosure,” with a chain link fence, a roof and a cement floor. Tolman said his family felt keeping their dog enclosed in such a way would be neglectful.
Instead, the family took the dog to a boarding facility outside of town, but the cost of boarding soon became too much for the family so they moved him to a piece of land they own outside city limits, Tolman said.
The family visits Toby twice a day to feed and play with him, but Tolman said the dog is lonely and his health has suffered from being separated from the family he’s been with since he was puppy.
Tolman approached the City Council at its June 20 meeting to ask for an exemption to the ordinance, presenting letters from the dog’s veterinarian and several others who are familiar with the dog vouching for his non-aggressive demeanor. The council denied the exemption but asked city attorney Clyde Nelson and Chief Sparrow to research the issue of breed-specific restrictions and make a recommendation on whether the ordinance should be changed.
Council member Travis Kunz said he sympathizes with the Tolman family, but he couldn’t say whether the council would be willing to change the ordinance. Kunz said he began researching the issue after Tolman approached the council and found that pit bulls have a long reputation of aggression. He said he is concerned that granting an exemption for the Tolmans or changing the ordinance might lead to the city being held liable if Toby or another pit bull were to attack someone. He said pit bulls have a reputation as attack dogs, and other cities around the country and the world have also banned the breed.
“It opens up a very complex case,” Kunz said.
Sparrow said he has investigated other cities’ positions on pit bulls and put together a recommendation for the council, which he will present Monday.
However, he declined to say what that recommendation was before the meeting. He said there have been incidents with vicious pit bulls during his time with the Preston Police, but he declined to estimate how many or how frequently those incidents have occurred. There have also been incidents with vicious dogs of other breeds, he said.
During the six years the family has had Toby, he has never shown any sign of aggression, Tolman said.
In fact, he’s docile by the standards of any breed, he said. He points to an incident several years ago, when a technical problem with the family’s phone system resulted in an accidental 911 call. When police responded to the home and no one answered the door, they entered the house to investigate a potential emergency. Toby was in the room, but rather than barking or growling, as most dogs of any breed would do, the dog just sat and watched as the police moved through the home, Tolman said.