ANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — For much of the past three decades, pit bulls have been widely regarded as America's most dangerous dog — the favorite breed of thugs, drug dealers and dog-fighting rings, with a fearsome reputation for unprovoked, sometimes deadly attacks.
Hostility toward "pits" grew so intense that some cities began treating them as the canine equivalent of assault rifles and prohibited residents from owning them.
But attitudes have softened considerably since then as animal activists and even television shows cast the dogs in a more positive light. The image makeover has prompted many states to pass new laws that forbid communities from banning specific breeds. And it illustrates the power and persistence of dog-advocacy groups that have worked to fend off pit bull restrictions with much the same zeal as gun-rights groups have defeated gun-control measures.
"Lawmakers are realizing that targeting dogs based on their breed or what they look like is not a solution to dealing with dangerous dogs," said Lisa Peters, a spokeswoman for the American Kennel Club.
Eighteen states now have laws that prohibit communities from adopting breed-specific bans. Lawmakers in six more states are considering similar measures, and some cities are reviewing local policies that classify pit bulls as dangerous animals.
Pit bull advocates hail the changes as recognition that breed-specific laws discriminate against dogs that are not inherently aggressive or dangerous unless they are made to be that way by irresponsible owners.
The dogs' foes complain that their message is being drowned out by a well-funded, well-organized lobbying effort in state capitols. The debate puts millions of pit bull owners up against a relatively small number of people who have been victimized by the dogs.
Ron Hicks, who sponsored a bill in the Missouri House to forbid breed-specific legislation, said he was surprised when nobody spoke against his proposal last month at a committee hearing.
"I figured a few parents would be there who would bring tears to my eyes," the Republican said. "Would it have changed my opinion or what I believe in? No."
A version of Hicks' legislation was endorsed by a House committee last month and needs to clear another committee before a full House vote. The state Senate is considering a comparable bill, as are lawmakers in Utah, South Dakota, Washington, Vermont and Maryland.
In Kansas, the communities of Bonner Springs and Garden City repealed their pit-bull bans earlier this year.
Summer Freeman did not know there was a ban when she moved to Bonner Springs last year after a divorce. She panicked when an animal-control officer discovered her pet and told her she had 15 days to get rid of the dog named Titan or move out of town.
"I think of him like my son," she said. "He's my dog-son, I guess you could say. He's at my hip all the time. He's just a big baby that wouldn't hurt a fly."
Freeman was forced to leave Titan at a shelter in Lawrence for nine months until she successfully fought to overturn the law in January.
For dog owners and pit bull opponents alike, the battle is as deeply personal as any gun-control or religious issue. Each side accuses the other of lying, exploiting emotions and using bullying tactics.
Pit bull owners insist their dogs are harmless, loving family members that shouldn't be blamed for something they didn't do. To opponents, they are a volatile breed whose genetics drive them to kill more than two dozen people in the U.S. each year, many of them young children.
Popular television shows such as "Pit Boss" and "Pit Bulls and Parolees" on Animal Planet glorify the animals and minimize the tragedies that occur when pit bulls turn on humans, pit bull opponents say.
"Everything is telling us these animals are safe if you raise them right," said Jeff Borchardt, a Stevens Point, Wis., man whose 14-month-old son was mauled to death a year ago by two pit bulls that tore the child from the arms of their owner, who was baby-sitting. "My son's dead because of a lie, because of a myth. My life will never be the same."
The two dogs that killed Borchardt's son had lived with their owner since soon after they were born, were well-cared for and had no history of aggressive behavior, he said. Both had been spayed or neutered.
That contradicts the contention that only mistreated, neglected or abused pit bulls attack people.
Colleen Lynn, founder of DogsBite.org, pointed to a friend-of-the-court brief her organization submitted in a 2012 case in which the Maryland Court of Appeals declared pit bulls "inherently dangerous."
"Appellate courts agree with us. Doctors and surgeons agree with us. That is credibility right there," Lynn said. "We also have the support of three divisions of the U.S. military, huge, massive bodies in the U.S. government."
The Marines, Army and Air Force all have banned dangerous dogs — including pit bulls and rottweilers — from their bases because of the "unreasonable risk" they pose to safety, Lynn said.
On the other side stand the American Bar Association and National Animal Control Association, which oppose breed-specific laws because they are discriminatory against a type of dog that isn't really a single breed.
Three main breeds — Staffordshire bull terrier, American pit bull terrier and American Staffordshire terrier — along with mixes of those breeds are generally considered pit bulls. But many muscular, square-jawed, boxer-type dogs often are misidentified as pit bulls, making breed-specific bans hard to enforce.
And because fatal pit bull attacks are a rarity compared with other causes of death such as auto accidents, dog advocates argue that breed-specific bans amount to legislative overkill.
"All communities deserve comprehensive dog laws that demand responsible dog ownership and that hold reckless owners accountable when their poor decisions wind up getting other dogs or other people hurt," said Ledy Vankavage, a top lobbyist for the Best Friends Animal Society.
Don Burmeister, assistant city attorney for Council Bluffs, Iowa, led the effort to pass a local pit bull ban that took effect in 2005. He recalled first reading about the issue in the July 27, 1987, issue of Sports Illustrated, which carried a full-cover shot of an angry pit bull baring its teeth. Across the top, it said "BEWARE OF THIS DOG."
After the Council Bluffs ban went into place, the number of pit bull attacks that resulted in hospitalization plummeted from 29 in 2004 to zero the past few years — proof, Burmeister said, that breed-specific bans work.
The opposition to pit bull bans, he added, is a sign that many American pet owners have lost touch with reality.
"Fifty years ago, you could take a sick animal behind a barn and put it out of its misery," he said. "That's just the way it was done. Now they would investigate you for doing that. The emotional irrationality of Americans and their dogs has never been worse than it is today."
TOKYO (AP) — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to boost rebuilding efforts as the country marked the third anniversary Tuesday of a devastating earthquake and tsunami that left nearly 19,000 people dead, destroyed coastal communities and triggered a nuclear crisis.
Japan has struggled to rebuild towns and villages and to clean up radiation from the meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. Reconstruction plans are finally taking shape, but shortages of skilled workers and materials are delaying the work.
The triple disasters known in Japan as 3-11 killed 15,884 people and left 2,636 unaccounted for on its northeastern coast. The country has earmarked 25 trillion yen ($250 billion) for reconstruction through March 2016.
Three years later, nearly 270,000 people remain displaced from their homes, including many from Fukushima prefecture who may never be able to return home due to radioactive contamination.
During a ceremony in Tokyo, officials and representatives of the survivors offered a minute of silence to mark the moment, at 2:46 p.m., when the magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off the Tohoku coast. It was the strongest quake recorded in Japan's history.
Abe has visited disaster-hit areas regularly since taking office in late 2012, and said Tuesday he has seen signs of progress. Farming and fishing resumed in some areas, and some people have moved to public housing from shelters, he said, promising to do more.
"We must further speed up the reconstruction so that everyone affected by the disasters can return to ordinary life as soon as possible," Abe, wearing a dark formal suit, said during the solemn ceremony.
Abe has promised to move hundreds of communities along that ravaged coast to higher ground to avoid future tsunamis, and build thousands more public housing units within a year in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures.
In Fukushima, reconstruction has lagged further behind in some areas because of the nuclear disaster.
Several towns are still off-limits due to high radiation.
The plant has stabilized substantially, but is still plagued by frequent leaks of radioactive water and other mishaps, triggering concern about whether it's really under control. The leaks are hampering the plant's decommissioning, which is expected to take about 40 years.
Yukari Tanaka, a resident of Futaba town, where the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant is located, told the ceremony she couldn't look for her father after the tsunami because they were ordered to evacuate. Weeks later, her father was found dead under the roof of their tsunami-toppled house.
"I never forget how I regretted that I had to evacuate, leaving my father behind," Tanaka said.
Emperor Akihito, who also attended the ceremony, said that his heart breaks when he thinks of the Fukushima residents who have no idea if they can ever return home.
"Many disaster survivors are still experiencing difficulties. It is important that all people of Japan unite their hearts and stand by each other for a long period so that they can live without losing their hopes and in good health," Akihito said.
In northern Japan, some tsunami survivors held their own memorial events for their loved ones earlier Tuesday.
In the once-bustling fishing town of Minamisanriku, local residents gathered in front of the frame of what used to be the town's disaster prevention center, where dozens of town employees died in the tsunami. The residents prayed in front of a small table filled with flowers, a Buddha statue and incense.
Much of the town's coastal area remains deserted, except for a few structures that survived.
Katsuo Izumi, who lost his wife in the tsunami, said his disaster-hit town of Higashi-Matsushima has seen some rebuilding of public housing, schools and other facilities. Altogether, the city lost 1,000 residents.
"We survivors have a responsibility to live a full life on behalf of those who perished in the tsunami," he said at a Tokyo ceremony, representing the survivors from Iwate prefecture. "I hope to see the reconstruction achieved as soon as possible."
BRIGHAM CITY, Utah (AP) — Law enforcement, government agencies and others are itching to use drones for everything from finding lost hikers to tracking shifting wildfires. But privacy watchdogs are urging state legislatures to step in and head off any potential privacy violations.
That tension is on display as more than 35 states consider drone legislation this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The bills include ways to attract an industry that could generate billions and restrictions on drone use and data collection.
"It's in its nascent form now, but it's growing and will be growing in the future," Steve Erickson, who leads a privacy watchdog group called Citizens Education Project, told Utah lawmakers recently.
The proposed legislation comes as states are awaiting clear federal guidance on drones. Many states have taken additional steps to lure the unmanned aircraft industry, such as trying to become a federal testing site, with hopes it will be a financial boon.
The balancing act is playing out in stark relief in Utah, where there's a long history of suspicion at government intrusion and where drones are ideally suited to help authorities patrol largely rural, unforgiving terrain.
State Sen. Howard Stephenson is warning that the state needs to set ground rules about law enforcement use of drones before they become more widespread. To convince his colleagues, he played a video clip of George Orwell's "1984" in which a drone hovers and peers into windows.
"I don't think we want that type of thing happening in our society," he said. "It's a very frightening thing."
His legislation would restrict law enforcement from collecting or using data from a drone without a warrant. It also restricts the collecting and saving of any unrelated images captured by the drones, and prohibits nongovernment agencies or individuals from sharing drone images with law enforcement, except in emergencies.
The restrictions, which are similar to those adopted in other states, also come with an olive branch — the legislation notes lawmakers do not want to hamper the industry and research and cites the expected benefits the devices will bring to society.
About an hour north in Brigham City, nestled against the Wasatch Mountains, Box Elder County Sheriff J. Lynn Yeates said he's cognizant of the privacy concerns, but said a $7,000 multirotor drone his department has is solely for search and rescue and fire spotting.
The black aircraft, about 20 inches long, buzzes like a swarm of bees and can travel up to 2 miles in any direction. It's equipped with GPS and a camera that sends a live high-definition feed to Yeates and his team.
Yeates said it can be used to find hikers and others who get lost in the nearby steep, winding canyons and crevices every year. He said the device will not only save hours when trying to rescue people, but it will be less dangerous for his all-volunteer rescue team.
"You can't put a price on it," he said.
Troy May, whose Ogden-based company Digital Defense Surveillance sells and offers training on drones that can cost up to $50,000, supports the restrictions on an industry that already is generating interest in a wide swath of the public, from police to surveyors.
"It's going all kinds of different directions," he said of the industry.
That's precisely the point economic development officials are trying to make as lawmakers consider restrictions. Government use of the technology is a big driver for industry growth, said Vincent Mikolay at the Utah governor's economic development office.
Mikolay said unmanned systems are expected to be a billion-dollar industry in the U.S. over the next three years, and if states like Utah can land a portion of that, they'll see big economic gains.
Legislators in Utah and elsewhere aren't waiting for judges to determine whether the Fourth Amendment's constitutional protections against unlawful searches are sufficient to protect citizens, and are instead diving in with specific rules.
In Rhode Island this year, lawmakers are considering legislation that requires law enforcement to hold public hearings before acquiring a drone. They'd need approval from local leaders or the governor, and would need to consult the state attorney general and a judge before using it.
California legislators are considering measures that would require police to obtain a warrant when using drones and notify the public when they intend to use them. It also requires any data collected to be destroyed within six months and bars public agencies from arming the devices.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Would Parmesan by any other name be as tasty atop your pasta? A ripening trade battle might put that to the test.
As part of trade talks, the European Union wants to ban the use of European names like Parmesan, feta and Gruyere on cheese made in the United States.
The argument is that the American-made cheeses are shadows of the original European varieties and cut into sales and identity of the European cheeses. The Europeans say Parmesan should only come from Parma, Italy, not those familiar green cylinders that American companies sell. Feta should only be from Greece, even though feta isn't a place. The EU argues it "is so closely connected to Greece as to be identified as an inherently Greek product."
So, a little "hard-grated cheese" for your pasta? It doesn't have quite the same ring as Parmesan.
U.S. dairy producers, cheesemakers and food companies are all fighting the idea, which they say would hurt the $4 billion domestic cheese industry and endlessly confuse consumers.
"It's really stunning that the Europeans are trying to claw back products made popular in other countries," says Jim Mulhern, president of the National Milk Producers Federation, which represents U.S. dairy farmers.
The European Union would not say exactly what it is proposing or even whether it will be discussed this week as a new round of talks on an EU-United States free trade agreement opens in Brussels.
European Commission spokesman Roger Waite would only say that the question "is an important issue for the EU."
That's clear from recent agreements with Canada and Central America, where certain cheese names were restricted unless the cheese came from Europe. Under the Canadian agreement, for example, new feta products manufactured in Canada can only be marketed as feta-like or feta-style, and they can't use Greek letters or other symbols that evoke Greece.
Though they have not laid out a public proposal, the EU is expected to make similar attempts to restrict marketing of U.S.-made cheeses, possibly including Parmesan, Asiago, Gorgonzola, feta, fontina, grana, Gruyere, Muenster, Neufchatel and Romano.
And it may not be just cheese. Other products could include bologna, Black Forest ham, Greek yogurt, Valencia oranges and prosciutto, among other foods.
Concerned about the possible impact of changing the label on those popular foods, a bipartisan group of 55 senators wrote U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack this week asking them not to agree to any such proposals by the EU.
Led by New York Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Pennsylvania Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., the members wrote that in the states they represent, "many small- or medium-sized, family owned businesses could have their businesses unfairly restricted" and that export businesses could be gravely hurt.
Schumer said artisanal cheese production is a growing industry across New York.
"Muenster is Muenster, no matter how you slice it," he said.
Large food companies that mass-produce the cheeses are also fighting the idea. Kraft, closely identified with its grated Parmesan cheese, says the cheese names have long been considered generic in the United States.
"Such restrictions could not only be costly to food makers, but also potentially confusing for consumers if the labels of their favorite products using these generic names were required to change," says Kraft spokesman Basil Maglaris.
Some producers say they are incensed because it was Europeans who originally brought the cheeses here, and the American companies have made them more popular and profitable in a huge market. Errico Auricchio, president of the Green Bay, Wis., company BelGioioso Cheese Inc., produced cheese with his family in Italy until he brought his trade to the United States in 1979.
"We have invested years and years making these cheeses," Auricchio says. "You cannot stop the spreading of culture, especially in the global economy."
He says that companies who make certain cheeses would have to come together and figure out new names for them, which would be almost impossible to do.
His suggestion for Parmesan? "I Can't Believe It's Not Parmesan," he jokes.
Jaime Castaneda works for the U.S. Dairy Export Council and is the director of a group formed to fight the EU changes, the Consortium for Common Food Names. He says the idea that only great cheese can come from Europe "is just not the case anymore."
He points out that artisanal and locally produced foods are more popular than ever here and says some consumers may actually prefer the American brands. European producers can still lay claim to more place-specific names, like Parmigiano-Reggiano, he says.
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — It's now up to a judge whether two key figures in a political payback scandal ensnaring Gov. Chris Christie's administration will have to turn over text messages and other private communications to New Jersey lawmakers investigating the case.
Fired Christie staffer Bridget Kelly and two-time campaign manager Bill Stepien risk self-incrimination if they comply with the subpoenas for documents related to the traffic tie-ups at the George Washington Bridge, their lawyers told a county judge.
Lawyers for the legislative panel countered any such documents deemed potentially incriminating by Kelly and Stepien should be argued on a case-by-case basis.
The subpoenas seek documents concerning September's blocking of approach lanes to the bridge, which created hours-long backups in nearby Fort Lee, apparently to punish the town's Democratic mayor. Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson is unlikely to rule on the request before the end of the month.
Kelly was mobbed by reporters as she arrived and left the courthouse. She appeared near tears as her lawyer, Michael Critchley, explained that she chose to be in court because the outcome is of great importance to the now-unemployed single mother of four. Stepien's lawyer, Kevin Marino, said his client chose not to attend.
Lawyers for Kelly and Stepien partially based their 5th Amendment claims on a parallel criminal investigation by the U.S. attorney's office, which is seeking to uncover whether federal laws were broken. The legislative panel, which lacks authority to prosecute, wants to find out how high up Christie's chain of command the lane-closing scheme went and why it was hatched.
Christie, whose viability as a 2016 Republican presidential candidate has been called into question since the scandal erupted, has said he knew nothing of the plot's planning or execution. He said in December that no one on his staff was involved, a statement he was forced to retract in January when private emails showed otherwise. An email from Kelly saying "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" appeared to set the scheme in motion.
She received the reply, "got it," from a Christie loyalist at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency that runs the bridge.
Lawyers for Kelly and Stepien also said the subpoena amounts to a fishing expedition, but the panel's attorneys said the documents turned over so far make it reasonable to believe related correspondence exists and should be turned over.
The correspondence the committee has already seen are the basis on which legislative lawyer Reid Schar argued that the subpoena for additional lane-closing documents is based on knowledge, not guesswork.
Christie dismissed Kelly and cut ties with Stepien, who was a consultant for the Republican Governors Association at the time the scandal broke and was set to become the state GOP chairman. In all, five people close to Christie have been fired or resigned. Some 32 people or organizations close to the governor, including his re-election campaign and Republican State Committee, have been subpoenaed. All but Kelly and Stepien have complied or are in the process of producing documents.
Stepien's lawyer said FBI agents visited his client's apartment and inquired whether he paid the rent on time; Kelly's lawyer said agents sought to interview his client and her parents, but that no one was willing to talk.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Back in December, with the deadline approaching for people to enroll for Jan. 1 coverage in the new insurance exchange, an event was scheduled to inform Greene County residents about the program.