Michigan law would prohibit communities from banning pit bulls

LANSING — Communities would be prohibited from enacting ordinances that ban specific breeds of dogs under a bill being weighed by the House of Representatives.

At least 26 communities in Michigan, including Waterford and Grosse Pointe Woods, regulate breed-specific dogs. That includes 14 towns that actually ban residents from owning certain breeds, most often pit bulls, to prevent dog bites and maulings by the breed.

But state Sen. David Robertson, R-Grand Blanc, said dogs should not be banned based on their looks.

“Making it breed specific does not advance public safety, and it misses the mark,” he said during a hearing Wednesday before the House Local Government Committee. “Outright banning of a domesticated breed is wrong because it’s not central to the point that the owner is squarely responsible for the behavior of their dog.”

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Twenty states, along with representatives of the Michigan Humane Society, Best Friends’ Animal Society and several dog rescue groups, agreed.

Breed specific laws “infringe on responsible pet owner property rights. Anyone should be able to own a dog regardless how that dog looks. The best ordinances always focus on individual dogs and reckless owners,” said Richard Angelo, of the Best Friends’ Animal Society.

Ann Griffin of the Michigan Humane Society, added, “Breed specific legislation gives people a false sense of security. A dog’s appearance is not a predictor of its behavior.”

But Vaughn Wagner of Waterford said his neighbors were attacked by two pit bulls 30 years ago, leading the community to enact an ordinance banning residents from owning pit bulls in the township.

“It’s not about dogs that bite, it’s about dogs that kill,” he said. “Pit bulls have led the list for the last 30 years, they keep on killing, just look at Detroit, but not in Waterford. If you take away our breed-specific law, you leave us without prevention and protection.”

There have been a number of pit bull maulings in recent years, including the December death of 4-year-old Xavier Strickland, who was dragged from his mother by a pack of four pit bulls in Detroit and killed. The owner of the dogs was convicted of manslaughter in June and sentenced to 12 months in jail and five years of probation.

But removing a dog from a home just based on its breed and not on its behavior is heartbreaking, said Terry Hodskins, founder of the Michigan Pit Bull Education Project.

“I’ve seen families torn apart by breed-specific legislation. I was forced to move my rescue ranch because we weren’t willing to give up family members based on their looks,” she said. “I’ve watched grown men cry when they were told they couldn’t keep their family member.”

The bill passed the Senate on a 25-11 vote last October. No vote was taken in committee on the bill – SB 239 – Wednesday, but is expected sometime this fall.

Contact Kathleen Gray: kgray99@freepress.com or on Twitter @michpoligal

Communities that ban pit bulls

Alma, Ecorse, Grosse Pointe Woods, Hartford, Highland Park, Kingsford, Melvindale, Memphis, Muskegon Heights, Newaygo, Sylvan Lake, Tawas City, Waterford Township, West Branch.

Communities that regulate pit bulls and other breeds

Buena Vista, Centerline, Claybanks Township, Dearborn Heights, Hastings, Lapeer, Morenci, Roosevelt Park, Saginaw, Southgate, Birch Run, Ypsilanti Township

Source: DogBites.org, an education website that tracks legislation regarding dog breeds.


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