The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals found Oklahoma City's policy breached state law that bans “breed specific” regulation of dangerous dogs by a municipality. As a result, Oklahoma City's rule was unenforceable, the appellate found.
“The plain meaning of the statute forbids (the) City from regulating potentially dangerous or dangerous dogs by breed,” the ruling states. “The Policy adopted by City's Animal Welfare Superintendent does just that. Therefore, the Policy is in conflict with the statute and must fail.”
The ruling reverses a lower court decision that supported the city and sends the matter back to Oklahoma County District Judge Vicki Robertson for further proceedings.
The appellate court ruling may mean that adoption of pit bull terriers from the city's animal shelter is possible, but it didn't come in time to help the dog that was the center of the case. It was euthanized.
The pit bull terriers in the city's animal shelter will meet the same fate unless the city changes its policy as a result of the appellate court ruling or if the district judge issues a ruling that states the city's policy violates state law.
Karen L. Lewis brought the action against the city in 2006 after she noticed her neighbor's dog, a female black-and-white pit bull terrier, had been left chained to a tree without food or water.
She called the city's animal welfare division, which picked up the dog. Lewis tried to adopt the animal, but was told she couldn't because the city's policy is to euthanize all unclaimed pit bull terriers.
Lewis then filed for an injunction to stop the city from euthanizing the dog and to allow her to adopt the dog. She said unless the injunction is granted, she'll be haunted by thoughts that her actions led to the dog's death.
Robertson denied the petition for an injunction, saying the city has the right to determine which animals within its control or custody may be adopted.
Wednesday's ruling only addressed Lewis' request for an injunction against the city.
To strike down the animal shelter's rule on pit bull terriers, Lewis will have to file a new proceeding before Robertson.
“We really won't know what's going to happen until the judge rules on it,” said Assistant Municipal Counselor Rita Douglas-Talley.
Douglas-Talley said the animal shelter's adoption policy that states pit bull terriers are not suitable for adoption is not breed specific.
“We didn't say this was a dangerous or a potentially dangerous pit bull so you can't be adopted,” she said. “We just said we get to by statute decide what our adoption polices are going to be and we decided that we would not adopt out pit bulls.”
Oklahoma City has no ordinance banning pit bull terriers by labeling them dangerous breeds.