Peggy Noblitt, the owner of the 60-pound, female American Staffordshire pit bull terrier, has refused to abide by what she calls discriminatory conditions imposed on Blu Gator by the Issaquah Highlands homeowners' association.
She has responded to a suit from the homeowners' association by launching a countersuit of her own.
Among other things, the homeowner's association has ordered the pit bull to be muzzled, spayed and confined inside a secure kennel when she's in the back yard [by himself]. Noblitt is also supposed to take out $250,000 of liability insurance [which could simply be done by adding a rider to her current homeowner's insurance policy].
Both sides say initial hearings could begin as early as next month.
In an alleged case of pooch profiling, Noblitt says Blu Gator is being singled out because similar or related breeds have been involved in highly publicized attacks on people.
The homeowners' association, backed by Port Blakely Communities, the developer of Issaquah Highlands, wants the court to enforce the special conditions or order the pit bull out of the residential development.
John Adams, president of the homeowner's board and a Port Blakely Communities employee, says the legal focus of the case is simple.
"Can a homeowners' association adopt and enforce a rule?" he said.
Valerie Bittner, Noblitt's attorney, says the state Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that restrictive covenants for homeowners are legal -- but only if they're applied in a "reasonable, rational, fair, impartial, prudent and nondiscriminatory" manner.
That hasn't happened with Noblitt, Bittner said.
The homeowners' association says it began enforcing a ban on pit bulls in March. But Blu Gator, in place before the ban, was "grandfathered in" by the association with the aforementioned conditions.
The rationale for setting special conditions for specific breeds is based on the assumption that certain dogs are genetically more predisposed to lethal attacks.
But delving into the available evidence produces questions as well as answers.
In a special report issued by the American Veterinary Medical Association in 2000, statistics were accompanied by cautions.
In 1997 and 1998, the report says 27 people died in the U.S. from dog bite attacks. Rottweilers and "pit bull-type" dogs were responsible for around 60 percent of the deaths.
But the report points out that pit bull statistics are problematic:
* There is no well-defined pit bull breed. Several breeds fall into that general, nontechnical category.
* The intense publicity some pit bull attacks have generated may have led to an overreporting of pit bull incidents in witness accounts and media stories.
* Pit bulls have become popular with owners who train their dogs to be aggressive and dangerous.
The last point raises the nature versus nurture issue in Bittner's mind.
"The dog is very sensitive to the cues you're giving it," Bittner said.
Adam Karp, a Seattle attorney who specializes in animal law, points out that attack totals for a specific breed are meaningless because we don't know the population numbers for specific breeds.
In 1997 and 1998, 10 fatal attacks were attributed to Rottweilers. But because we don't know how many Rottweilers existed in the United States during that time, it's impossible to know what percentage of the breed was involved.
"Without knowing the number of animals in the United States by breed, one cannot meaningfully compute risk," Karp said.
Noting that cities, apartment houses and other entities make rules about what kinds of pets are allowed, Adams is optimistic the homeowners' association will fare well in court.
But Bittner believes the constitution provides protection from the "unchecked power of private government schemes."
"This is not just a dog case," Bittner said. "This is about the whole power structure of homeowners' associations."
(Eastside Journal - June 21, 2002)