By KIM FUNDINGSLAND

Minot Daily News

MINOT, N.D. (AP) — Recent appearances in Minot Municipal Court by two defendants charged with violating the city's pit bull ordinance may be an indicator of either a lack of public knowledge about the ordinance or an increased number of pit bulls within the city. Perhaps both.

Minot's pit bull ordinance is clearly written, the Minot Daily News (http://bit.ly/26fwVmb ) reported. It states, in part, "It shall be unlawful, and punishable under section 1-8 of the Minot Code of Ordinances, to harbor, own or in any way keep or possess within the corporate city limits of Minot, North Dakota, any pit bull dogs as described in this section."

Minot's Code of Ordinances can be found on the city's website at minotnd.org. The code defines a pit bull dog as a bull terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, American pit bull, American Staffordshire terrier, a mixed breed or of other breeds commonly known as pit bulls or any dog which has the appearance and characteristics of being predominantly of the breed of defined pit bulls.

How many pit bulls are in the city is unknown, but the amount of calls regarding pit bulls received by Minot Police indicates that, despite an ordinance to the contrary, a surprising number of pit bulls reside within city limits. Some of Minot's pit bulls are owned by new residents who may be unaware of Minot's pit bull ordinance and didn't bother to check city code. Others knowingly harbor pit bulls despite knowledge of breed restrictions within the city.

During the session of Municipal Court, two pit bull owners pleaded guilty to having pits bulls in the city, a B misdemeanor. Both owners were assessed $175 in fines and received a deferred imposition of sentence for six months in addition to having to remove their pit bulls from the city limits. The maximum penalty for a B misdemeanor is 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine.

Minot Police Animal Control confirmed that the pit bull belonging to Aaron Staniger, 39, Minot, had been removed from city limits. Staniger was cited April 7. Robert Schnabel, 54, Minot, was scheduled for a court trial on violation of the city's pit bull ordinance but reached a plea agreement just prior to the start of court Tuesday.

Schnabel entered a guilty plea. He was originally charged Dec. 31, 2015 when his two dogs were running loose until they were impounded inside a fenced yard in the 600 block of 12th Street Northeast and identified by Schnabel. According to the court Tuesday, Schnabel had removed his two pit bulls from the city and is required to notify Minot Police Animal Control if the pit bulls are returned to the city as service animals.

The court has the authority to order a pit bull to be destroyed if an owner refuses or fails to remove a pit bull from the city. If a pit bull is order to be impounded while a possible violation of city ordinance is being considered by the court, the owner must pay the cost of impoundment.

A pit bull mandated by the American Disabilities Act, Fair Housing Act or other federal or state law as a "service dog" is allowed in the city under certain restrictions. Those restrictions include keeping the pit bull confined at the owner's property indoors or, if outdoors, confined within a secure locked fence at least six feet high. If outside of the owner's property pit bulls must be muzzled and on a leash no longer than four feet and held at all times by the owner or other adult.

On some occasions, DNA testing is necessary to determine pit bull blood. Most often though, visual identification and owner admittance is sufficient to classify a dog as a pit bull or pit bull-mix. In the Schnabel case, Animal Control determined that both of his dogs had the appearance of pit bull breeding. According to an arrest narrative, Schnabel initially told Animal Control that his dogs were Labrador-mixes but later conceded that they had pit bull in them and DNA testing was not necessary.

City ordinance states that any "owner or keeper shall remove the pit bull from the city within twenty-four hours of the service of the citation and shall not cause the dog to be returned to the city unless there is a final court decision in his or her favor."

The Souris Valley Animal Shelter receives a dozen or more pit bulls a year, primarily dogs that are surrendered by new residents of the city so they will be in compliance with city ordinance. Shelter Director Randy McDonald says pit bulls are treated as every other dog in the shelter with one exception. Anyone wishing to adopt a pit bull from the Souris Valley Animal Shelter must reside in an area or community that allows pit bulls.

"We can't adopt within the city limits," said McDonald.

One of the most severe incidents involving pit bulls in the Minot area occurred in the nearby community of Des Lacs in late November 2010 when 46-year-old Lori Amsden, a mother of four, was attacked and nearly killed by two pit bulls while babysitting for a Des Lacs resident.

The dogs' owner, the late Anna Heppler, said she had warned Amsden not to go into the children's room where the dogs were located. A member of the household arrived home to find Amsden on the floor in a semi-conscious state with the dogs still attacking her. Both of Amsden's ears were torn from her head and she received numerous bite wounds. She survived but endured a lengthy recovery.

At the time of the attack, Des Lacs had an ordinance in place prohibiting pit bull breeds. Both dogs were euthanized following the incident.

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Information from: Minot Daily News, http://www.minotdailynews.com

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