Cities debate tougher, breed-specific dog laws
Christine Ferretti / The Detroit News
LIVONIA -- Diana Judge never had anything against pit bulls until she was ambushed this summer by a pair that escaped from their owner's yard in her neighborhood.
She fought one off. The other mauled her hands, ripped off a fingernail and killed her 12-pound Pembroke Welsh Corgi. Now, Judge is urging the city to strengthen its dangerous animal law to require special handling, obedience training and licensing. The suggestions are awaiting City Council consideration.
"I want residents to support a change in our laws to be more proactive," Judge said. "We'll feel much safer if we know there is a higher level of responsibility put upon people who own these dogs."
Livonia is the newest, joining half a dozen others in Metro Detroit exploring and enacting laws to tighten the leash on owners of bully breeds and dogs deemed dangerous.
The movement fuels an ongoing battle between municipalities and animal advocates who believe the bully-breed dogs are unfairly labeled as vicious attackers associated with crime.
"Ordinances and laws against specific breeds are unacceptable. It's not an answer to the problem," said Al Stinson, director of legislative affairs for the Michigan Association for Pure Bred Dogs.
"It would be a good start to enforce laws on the books statewide.
Until we stop that behavior this is not going to solve the problem."
Municipalities from Farmington Hills, Southfield, Allen Park, Redford Township and Wyandotte are mulling, passing and revising
ordinances -- some singling out bully breeds, others requiring owners of "dangerous" dogs to purchase liability insurance, muzzle, microchip and obtain special licensing.
Allen Park's City Council will review a plan tonight to outlaw the breed. The decision follows a deadly attack in July, when two pit bull mixes from bordering Lincoln Park broke down a councilwoman' s fence, killing one of her Shih Tzu dogs and injuring the other. Last year, bully breeds were responsible for seven of about 35 attacks in the city, officials said.
"The dogs seem to be more aggressive than most types. They are innately more prone to attacking," said City Councilman James Flynn, a member of the committee working to craft the ordinance.
"My biggest fear, as an elected official is someone coming to me and saying, 'Sir you had the opportunity (to do something) about a known threat and opted not to.' "
Southfield and Wyandotte have also studied breed-specific laws. Next month, Southfield will revisit a plan to prohibit ownership of bully breeds and Wyandotte considered, but then withdrew, a draft in August that would restrict owners of pit bulls, Staffordshire terriers and pit bull mixed breeds. In Livingston County, County Animal Shelter can euthanize pit bulls or other "bully breeds" running loose within four days if not claimed. The decision was prompted by the killing of two people last September by four American mixed bulldogs and the mauling of a horse in January by pit bulls.
Cleo Parker, an advocate for bull-breeds, said large, muscular dogs are often mistakenly identified as pit bull mixes, making these laws difficult to enforce. She suggests they stick to actions rather than looks.
"There is no objective standard for determining exactly what (breed) a dog is," said Parker, a member of the Bull Terrier Club of Metro Detroit. "Dogs should be judged by action -- if the dog bit someone or was demonstrating aggressive behavior, not where someone looks at it and says it's dangerous looking."
Blame should fall upon owners, said Chuck Gillenwater, animal control officer for Wyandotte.
"It doesn't matter what breed: if it's going to bite, it's going to bite," said Gillenwater, noting pit bulls account for few -- maybe 5 percent -- of the city's dog bite cases annually.
"There's not a major outbreak of pit bull bites." Redford Township and Farmington Hills have taken a similar stance, passing "vicious" and "dangerous" animal ordinances instead, requiring owners to obtain liability insurance, special signage and licenses.
Waterford Township, Melvindale, Grosse Pointe Woods and Ecorse prohibit bully breeds. Over the last decade, others like Dearborn Heights, Westland, Muskegon Heights, Alma, Morenci and Roosevelt Park have passed laws regulating pit bull owners.
Farmington Hills-based attorney Glenn Saltsman, who handles hundreds of dog bite cases annually, claims bully breeds are the overwhelming culprit in his most serious dog bite cases.
"I know what these dogs are capable of," he said. "It's totally mind numbing and unbelievable until you've seen a picture of what these dogs have done to kids or people. It's sickening."
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