A debate about pit bulls has ignited an Eastern Iowa community after 10 dog owners were notified they had to get rid of their pets.
All of this has boiled over in Keystone, a small town in Benton County, where residents have wondered what will happen to their dogs, especially considering some aren’t even pit bulls.
“The county ordinance says that any dogs that have characteristics of pit bulls or are pit bulls, so meaning any dog that looks like it could have pit in it is not allowed. Which, in my own research, I have found there are upwards of 40 different breeds that share characteristics with pit bulls,” said Gabby Gormley, whose dog Harley was targeted.
“The sheriff that I talked to had said because I told him that I have vet paperwork that says she’s a boxer-lab mix, and he said, ‘Unfortunately, it doesn’t really matter because she resembles a pit bull,’” Gormley continued.
She said was not given any written notice, nor any warnings before a sheriff’s deputy told her over the phone that she had 10 days to get rid of her dog.
“I said, ‘If, hypothetically, if I don’t remove my dog from the home within that 10-day period, what happens?;” Gormley said. “And he said, ‘Well, you will be served with a search warrant and we will remove the dog for you.’”
Gormley said she was blindsided because she’d lived in Keystone since March 2021 and had never heard from anyone in the city or had problems with her neighbors about her dog.
MaKinzie Brucht, another targeted resident, said the same thing.
“We bought the house in December. Our realtors never mentioned it to us. The realtor we dealt with lived in town herself. I made it known that I had pit bulls, the realtor on our side of it even asked me to buy one of the puppies because I had puppies at the time,” Brucht said.
“Nobody left notes on our door. Nobody stopped and said, ‘Hey, just so you know, you’re not supposed to have that dog,’ nothing,” she continued.
More confusion was added later in the week when the Benton County sheriff said there were no plans to remove the dogs from their owners.
Sheriff Ron Tippet told the Gazette the office hadn’t given people official notices, but while Gormley and Brucht both confirmed they did not receive citations, they said they were told their dogs would be taken from them if they didn’t act.
Tippet also confirmed the warnings came after a 2-year-old was attacked by a stray dog in June. But none of those dogs belonged to the Keystone residents who received warnings.
The city plans to address the problem at a council meeting on Thursday, August 4, so until then residents are stuck in limbo. They don’t have to move their dogs, but they don’t know what to expect.
The goal is to convince the city to remove its ordinance or to reword it.
“I don’t want the mayor of Keystone or the city council of Keystone to feel like we are attacking them,” Gormley said. “We, me and some of the other people that are involved in this, we really believe that there has to be a common middle ground that we can meet on.”
The Keystone ordinance reads:
“Pit bull terrier” means any dog of that breed known variously as American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, or Pit Bull Terrier, or any dog of mixed breed which contains a strain of such breed known variously as American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier or Pit Bull Terrier, and which is identifiable as such by a qualified veterinarian duly licensed in the State. […] KEEPING OF DANGEROUS ANIMALS PROHIBITED. No person shall keep, shelter, or harbor any dangerous animal as a pet or act as a temporary custodian for such animal, or keep, shelter, or harbor such animal for any other purpose or in any other capacity within the City.
Gormley said Cedar Rapids has an ordinance that’s based on the behavior of the individual dog, not its breed or what it looks like.
Residents also plan to appear at the Vinton City Council on August 11, or the next Benton County Board of Supervisors meeting hoping to overturn the county ordinance, or to have Vinton overturn theirs and start a ripple effect on other towns in the county.
Plans for the Dogs
Gormley said she and her fiancé had planned to take Harley, their dog, to her in-laws’ house outside of Benton County. They didn’t want to risk the sheriffs returning with a warrant and taking her dog.
“We feel very overwhelmed right now with emotion,” she said. “We are obviously devastated. I mean, it’s removing a family member from our home. I have had her since she was eight weeks old. She will be three at the end of August. She has never shown any sort of aggression to anyone for any reason whatsoever.”
Brucht did not make those plans, because it was her understanding that without paperwork, action couldn’t be taken against her.
She said her dogs, which are pit bulls though only one has been targeted, have been out in the yard before. And she’s walked them in town without a problem.
Brucht is waiting to see what comes from the city council meeting, but she’s also considering contacting her realtor. And she said she knows other targeted families are thinking about it, too.
Brucht found Keystone by accident when she was searching for a new house.
“I just happened to expand my search to Benton County, and I found this house,” she said. “We visited it and I fell in love with the town. I heard good things about the school and everything. This house was just amazing. So we decided to move here. And now, six or seven months later, I’m ready to sell my house and move out.”
Have a story idea or something I should know? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also DM me on Twitter at @n_hytrek.
Iowa Starting Line is part of an independent news network and focuses on how state and national decisions impact Iowans’ daily lives. We rely on your financial support to keep our stories free for all to read. You can contribute to us here. Also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.