By OLIVIA BERGMEIER
With a bursting-at-the-seams animal shelter and discontent for some in the Salina community, a small group of residents challenged the Salina City Commission to make changes.
"Two-year-old Lilo, taken from Tanya, a legally blind woman, on 9/10/2022, held for 10 months and euthanized on July 6, 2023, because she wasn't placeable. She was already in a loving home and had done nothing wrong," said Debrah Corrales, a Salina resident, to commissioners. "It is time to stop putting the deeds of other dogs on the lives of good dogs based on their appearance."
Lilo was a pit bull type dog, a type of dog banned in the city since 2004 because of a severe attack on a young child by two canines identified as pit bulls.
Since then, Salina has continued the ban for two decades, causing the city to spend thousands of dollars on dogs that often end up euthanized.
This wasn't the first time Corrales stood before the City Commission with this statement — for the last decade, Corrales has attended multiple Salina City Commission meetings to plead for most of these dogs' lives.
Corrales said the primary reason behind her activism is saving dogs' lives from the shelter and promoting good ownership of all animals. Another aspect she spreads awareness about too is how much cash the Salina Animal Shelter spends on DNA testing due to the ban.
"They have spent over $7,000 DNA'ing these dogs and then killing them or giving them away," Corrales said.
Corrales, Rose Base, the previous shelter director, Michelle Timson, an Ottawa County resident, and Laura Currie, a Salina resident, spoke to the commission recently, renewing the push this year to repeal the legislation.
On Monday, Jan. 22, the small group attended the meeting and shared an update from the shelter, complete with recent euthanasia and transfers.
The effort to repeal BSL
Before any members spoke to the commission, Salina Mayor Bill Longbine prefaced the conversation with a statement for the city commissioners.
"Our shelter is full of dogs that are not adoptable, and anyway you look at it, we have no plan going forward, and it's not sustainable to just hold these dogs forever," Longbine said during the meeting. "I think as a commission, this is something we need to take on this year, sooner rather than later."
After Longbine finished his statement to the commission, Timson stood up and spoke first, setting up some biology facts about domesticated dogs.
According to the City of Salina, dog breeds banned within the city include the American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, and any other breed with a predominant appearance and characteristics of pit bull-type dogs.
Michelle Timson, a Salina resident, said cities often ban pit bull-type breeds due to a "locking jaw" and an incredible bite force, but in reality, pit bull breeds have no unique anatomy that allows them to lock on once they bite.
"Powerful breeds are measured by the psi of their bite force," Timson said to commissioners. "The Dutch shepherd is 224 psi; the American pit bull is 235; the Australian shepherd, for Mayor Longbine, is 238. The Rottweiler is 328, a wolf dog is 400, a mastiff is 556, a cane corso is 700, and a Kangal Anatolian is 743. So the pit bull is obviously in the lower end — any dog can be a dangerous dog."
Timson shared her experience with dogs, as she grooms pets just north of Saline County. In her experience, any unsocialized, abused or neglected dog can be an aggressive animal, and that does not depend on breed but rather the owners.
She found another issue BSL causes for the larger Salina community — dumped pets.
"I have recently found another pit bull that has been dumped in Ottawa County close to my home this last week," Timson said. "This makes two pit bulls within a year and a half that I've seen dumped. So how many more out there that have been disregarded like trash outside of the county?"
Timson pushed the commission to begin holding owners responsible rather than the dog since dogs become aggressive due to mishandling or abuse.
Base also spoke to commissioners during the meeting, telling commissioners her experience with the animal shelter and how it causes challenges for the service.
"I really think it's time that it gets repealed — our animal shelter is in a dire crisis. It has been for some time now," Base said to commissioners. "I know there's been talk about building extra kennels, but that isn't the answer. Holding these dogs, it's just not the answer. We need to get these animals out of the shelter and treat them on a case-by-case basis."
A member of the Salinans against BSL group, Tyler Colt Sartain, is a delivery driver in Saline County, and he often sees dogs across the county when on his delivery route.
Sartain said he had been bitten on deliveries twice, and both were from German shepherds.
One aspect Sartain said matters to him is the loss of personal freedom when living in a city with BSL restrictions and that it isn't effective in keeping pit bull breeds out of Salina.
"These dogs are banned right now, but guess what? There are thousands of them in town right now, and if they were really that bad of a breed, we'd be seeing attacks on the news every night," Sartain said. "It's all fear-mongering and bad information — people really need to get their facts checked and allow people to have their freedoms."
What does repealing the ban look like?
In 2021, Abilene repealed its ban on the breed, and with effective animal control strategies before 2021, yearly bite rates have decreased since 2018.
According to Michael Ragsdale, the Abilene Police Department community services officer, in 2018, Abilene reported 33 dog bites, 2019 had 20, 2020 had 17, 2021 had 13, 2022 had 10, and 2023 increased slightly with 15 bites.
"Each vicious or nuisance case is different, and while we charge out these offenses the same, the solutions to prevent future issues can be unique to the situation," Ragsdale said. "Police department staff work with the city prosecutor and animal owner to reach an outcome that is suitable to help ensure the safety of our community. This could be requiring the dog to wear a muzzle when outside, fencing repairs, additional stop gaps, having the dog rehomed, or, in extreme situations, the dog euthanized."
The most significant threat to animal control staff is the unknown factors of each call, with the unpredictability of animals and their owners causing the most challenges.
Other towns like Overland Park and Junction City have also repealed the ban in recent years, with many citing the same issues that Salina currently faces with BSL in place.
Base, Timson, and Corrales agreed that repealing the ban would lead to more effective animal management and efficient shelter space for all rescued animals.
Some in the community still feel like a ban is necessary for safety, though, and Longbine said he has heard both sides from residents and city staff.
"I felt there was not support from the Commission to make changes, nor is there support from the public," Longbine said. "What's happening now is just not sustainable, and we need to come up with something."
The Salina Animal Shelter is a no-kill shelter, but in January 2024, Corrales shared that through requested documents, she found that six dogs were euthanized in January, and five were identified as pit bulls.