When Brittney Swanson asked her 5-year-old son Zaiden which he would rather have, the family dog Stella, or their Huxley home, she said his response was simple. He wants Stella.
“He was like, ‘Well, I’ll start packing my room if we have to move,’” Swanson said. “He just wants his dog, and it makes him very sad that the city is so silly. They don’t even know her, and why don’t they want her here?”
After the Huxley City Council voted to uphold an ordinance banning residents from owning pit bull terriers just over a month ago, the Swansons had until today to either move or find another home for Stella, an American Staffordshire terrier, a breed commonly associated with being a pit bull. But Swanson said her family is not done fighting, and plan to file an injunction against the city, which allows them to keep Stella during the legal proceedings.
“It’s been frustrating and emotional,” Swanson said. “I cry a lot when I think about not having her here and then I cry a lot when I think that she’s done nothing wrong, and she’s being punished.”
According to Huxley Mayor Craig Henry, the pit bull ordinance has been in place since 2008; however, the wording was changed following the 4-1 council vote to uphold the ban. According to the previous ordinance, no person shall keep any “wolves, coyotes, pit bull dogs (or cross breeds where one parent is a wolf, coyote or pit bull).” That ordinance was amended to say “Staffordshire Bull Terrier of Staffordshire Terrier” instead of “pit bull.”
“When we passed the ordinance earlier this year, it was to clarify the original ordinance that was adopted back in 2008,” Henry said.
Huxley City Administrator John Haldeman said that the issue came to light when police were alerted late last year of the Swansons’ dog. From there he said that police performed an inspection and determined the animal fell under the “pit bull” category. The Swanson’s then contacted Henry who brought the issue before the city council.
“We’re not taking a position against dogs or anything else,” Henry said. “We’re just trying to clarify our position so the ordinance is clear.”
According to Swanson, she was never asked to specify Stella’s breed when she registered her with the city. But Haldeman said that since Swanson registered her dog after presenting before the council, the city was already aware of the dog’s breed.
Swanson and her family have lived in Huxley for a little over two years and adopted Stella — who is now 2 years old — last September. Swanson said that anyone who has come in contact with Stella knows how sweet she is, and believes that banning an entire breed serves no public good.
“There’s no actual research that proves a breed ban is a good idea, like countries have them and are reversing them because they’re ineffective,” Swanson said. “It’s just so frustrating because it’s literally just a ‘feel-good’ ordinance.”
During the Jan. 23 City Council meeting, Swanson argued that 21 states have made it illegal to ban pit bulls and that the city code was “unconstitutional.” She said that pit bulls have been mislabeled and stereotyped in a negative manner by the media, and pointed to the fact that many are now being used as service dogs, military dogs and companion dogs.
Swanson also said that her family is willing to move if they cannot have Stella at home, and have already started remodeling parts of the house in case they have to sell.
Given that the injunction has not been finalized yet, Swanson said that Stella will stay with friends who live in Nevada, which along with Ames, Boone, Slater, Cambridge and Ankeny, do not have breed-specific ordinances. Swanson said she does not know how long Stella will have to be re-homed, but she said that once the injunction is approved by a judge, the legal proceedings could take around a year.
And she said that explaining this whole situation to her son has been the most difficult part.
“He’s, I think, processing it as positively as possible, but when we tell him that she’s going to go stay with a friend for awhile, he immediately asks if we can go visit her and how long she’s going to be gone for,” Swanson said. “So he’s pretty sad when we talk about that.”
Calls placed to Swanson’s attorney Britt Gagne were not immediately returned.
Both Haldeman and Henry said that the city is waiting to see what is filed by Swanson before planning how to proceed.