City officials back away from pit bull ban
Published: Friday, December 03, 2010
By J. Patrick Pepper
Press & Guide Newspapers
Plan to put stronger teeth into vicious dog rules
DEARBORN -- Facing a mobilized and well-organized opposition, city officials announced Thursday that a plan to ban pit bull terriers is off the table.
Instead, current dog control codes will be overhauled to a two-tier system that will have more teeth and come with tougher enforcement.
The new classification for nuisance dogs is “dangerous,” and adds to the existing “vicious dog” classification.
A draft of the new ordinance defines a dangerous dog as one that a reasonable person believes poses a “serious and unjustified imminent threat of serious physical injury or death to a person or a companion animal,” or a dog that bites without provocation.
To be considered dangerous, a dog must have a complaint filed against it, followed by an investigation by animal control or police officers. The investigation findings will be taken to the manager of the Dearborn Animal Shelter who will determine if the dog is dangerous based on a preponderance of evidence standard.
If a dog gets the dangerous label by the manager, the owner can appeal the ruling in 19th District Court, according to the draft.
Apparently at least two judges at the local court are on board with this legislation, Mayor Jack O’Reilly said Thursday.
Once a dog is deemed dangerous, it must be spayed or neutered within 14 days and implanted with a tracking microchip. Additionally, at the owner’s expense, a board-certified animal behaviorist or other similar expert also must evaluate the dog.
If the expert considers the dog to exhibit “vicious” characteristics it then is moved into the next, more serious category of “vicious dog,” which imposes several restrictions to ownership or could result in euthanasia.
“If you can’t manage your pet in a reasonable way, you’re going to be held accountable,” said O’Reilly.
The ordinance that would have banned pit bulls received a first reading at the City Council’s November meeting.
It would have allowed current owners to keep their dogs, but barred any new pit bulls coming into the city. The push for the pit bull ban came following a series of recent vicious attacks by the breed in Metropolitan Detroit – including two serious incidents in Dearborn Heights in Septemeber.
But the ordinance received a setback when a cadre of dog lovers showed up to the meeting in protest, causing council to table the ordinance pending further review.
And at a study session on the matter Thursday, the pack was back once again and this time it was bigger.
About 50 people overflowed into the hallway outside the mayor’s office while city officials met inside with a broad group of animal professionals and advocates.
The meeting kicked off with city attorney Laurie Sabon-Ellerbrake summarizing the new legislation and then gave way to comments from people against the ban.
Among the anti-ban crowd was St. Louis, Missouri-native Ledy VanKavage, a national expert on dog control laws and attorney with Best Friends Animal Society.
Best Friends is the organization that took in more than 20 of the dogs involved in NFL quarterback Michael Vick’s dog fighting ring.
VanKavage made the trip at the request of Friends of the Dearborn Animal Shelter, the nonprofit operator of the Dearborn Animal Shelter and the single largest opponent of the ban.
During a 15-minute presentation, she outlined why breed-specific legislation doesn’t work.
Among the top reasons cited are that it ignores the root problem of irresponsible owners who don’t properly socialize their pets, breed-specific laws have proved tough to enforce in other jurisdictions, and enforcement can be cost-prohibitive.
“Our economists estimate it would cost the city $145,930 annually to enforce a (pit bull ban) in Dearborn,” VanKavage said.
“I know the city subsidizes the animal shelter somewhat already, but I’m pretty sure you don’t want to add that much to it,” she added.
Also with the anti-ban group were a number of local animal professionals and veterinarians. Dr. Cheryl Good, who owns Dearborn Family Pet Care on Michigan Avenue, told the group that she analyzed her client list when she heard about the ban and figured it would have cost her about 20 percent of her business.
Steve Robinson, an animal behaviorist who is state-certified as an expert witness in dog-related cases, stressed that dogs don’t come preprogrammed as vicious.
“Dogs really have no agenda, they are a product of their surroundings,” he said.
City Council members generally seemed to be behind the amended ordinance.
“I think we really learned a lot here tonight and I’m glad that we took the chance to rethink this,” Council President Pro Tem Suzanne Sareini said afterwards.
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