Friday, September 23, 2011

Helping Hands

He just stood there with his tail wagging.
He wanted another piece of my dog.

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Revised: Dec 15 2012, 15:22 GMT

The citizens of Topeka have a long and distinguished history of protecting their animal companions. Shortly after the first SPCA's were formed in Boston, Philadelphia, and New York, the Helping Hands Humane Society was founded in Topeka in 1890. An interesting (and irrelevant) rumor persists that Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson were both local dogcatchers in the years before Helping Hands was founded, and a distant relative of Earp's currently sits on the board of directors.

Topeka continued their progressive tradition of humane animal care with the passage of carefully crafted Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) in the early 1980s. The legislation protected the citizens of Topeka and their more vulnerable animal companions for nearly 25 years.

The situation began to change in January of 2010 when Ledy VanKavage of Best Friends Animal Society spoke before the Kansas Student Animal Legal Defense Fund. In the audience was an assistant city attorney for Topeka, Kyle Smith. Soon after VanKavage's presentation the city formed a committee to advise city council on the repeal of their BSL ordinance, and packed it with pit bull advocates.

The committee included, in addition to Smith, Best Friends law clerk (and VanKavage protege) Katie Bray Barnett. Also on the committee was Stacy Hensiek, the owner of a pit bull, who briefly served as director of Helping Hands during the period of repeal. The committee presented a pit bull friendly ordinance to the city council which was accepted on September 28th, 2010. The new ordinance, in addition to removing the BSL provisions, allows Helping Hands to make pit bulls available for public adoption. Flushed with success in Topeka, Bray-Barnett is working on similar repeals in at least twelve cities.

One of the arguments used by Smith and others on the committee was that BSL was draining the city coffers. Financial intimidation has been a favorite device of pit bull advocates when arguing with cash-strapped municipalities. The Best Friends fiscal impact "Cost Calculator" has been discredited but nonetheless remains an effective intimidation tool.

The primary flaw of the Best Friends Cost Calculator often goes unrecognized. The disregard of the human toll is a moral failure. There are not only the medical costs of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of human and animal victims each year, but the financial liability that municipalities and humane shelters bear are ignored. Recent jury awards in California and Washington have cost municipalities millions of dollars, and the human toll is incalculable.

On September 21, 2011, nearly a year after city council voted to overturn their BSL, a pit bull "came out of nowhere" and attacked Bailey, a Golden Retriever, and latched onto her stomach. Lisa Clark, Bailey's guardian, and several others received cuts and bites to their hands and arms as they struggled to protect Bailey. Animal control officers and police arrived at the scene and captured the pit bull. Bailey was taken to a veterinarian with severe wounds, and the pit bull was transported to Helping Hands Humane Society.

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Source: The Topeka Capital - Journal