SouthfieldAugust 13, 2008
Southfield considers ban on pit bulls
By Jennie Miller
C & G Staff Writer
SOUTHFIELD — The city could become the fifth in the state to ban pit bull ownership after the Southfield City Council gave the go-ahead Aug. 11 to its attorney to draft such an ordinance.
The item came before council because the city has been without an animal control officer for four years. City Attorney John Beras brought the recommendation that the city hire a new officer and discuss the issue of placing restrictions on the ownership of “dangerous dogs,” or banning them outright.
“There’s no question that we have problems with dangerous dogs,” Beras said, adding that under state law, if a dog bites another animal or a person, it is considered a dangerous animal.
Typically, those animals tend to be pit bulls, but Beras said the city has also had problems with rottweilers, German shepherds, Doberman pinschers and bull mastiffs. Pit bulls can be regulated in the U.S. and in Michigan, though, because scientific study shows that the animals have inherent tendencies to aggressive behavior.
However, Southfield City Councilman Bill Lattimore said owners play a role, and pit bulls suffer from a poor reputation.
“Unfortunately, pit bulls get a bad rap because it’s mostly their owners, who tend to train or make these dogs mean,” said Southfield City Councilman Bill Lattimore. “Any dog can be vicious if they are trained to be mean or if they’re treated cruelly.”
Southfield’s former animal control officer retired in 2004 and was never replaced due to budget constraints.
“I don’t know a city this size that doesn’t have an animal control officer,” said Southfield City Councilman Ken Siver, a member of the neighborhood services committee, which recommended the action. “We just think it’s time we elevated the discussion on this.”
Right now, animal complaint calls coming in to the Southfield Police Department are handled by those officers, depleting the department of staff hired to perform other essential tasks, and costing the city money for overtime. Without an officer assigned to those duties, the same kind of revenue has not been generated through court action, Beras said.
“She continuously wrote tickets for barking dogs, dogs straying off property …,” Beras said. “If a dog bites a person or another dog, (we) can seize that dog, we can hold it, ask the dog to be euthanized, restricted to its property or the judge can require it kept in a completely enclosed pen and that the owner have certain liability insurance. There is a process by which a civil proceeding (takes place).”
When they had an animal control officer, the city dealt with this type of court hearing three to four times a year, Beras said. Since the position has been vacant, the city has been involved in only one such case.
“Clearly there was a dramatic fall-off,” Beras said.
And not because the need was lacking.
“It’s a growing problem,” Lattimore said.
“Clearly, we need enforcement on this,” said Southfield City Council President Joan Seymour.
Council approved hiring a new — and this time armed with a gun — animal control officer 5-0. Council members Syliva Jordan and Myron Frasier were absent from the meeting. The officer will be armed as a safety precaution, "So that they feel safe going into a situation, but also, if they have no other choice but to shoot," Beras said.
The discussion turned to what kind of action to take about the pit bulls.
“My personal preference is to outlaw them,” Siver said, adding that a former next-door neighbor had three pit bulls and it significantly altered the quality of life for him during their time there. “It was a terrible experience.” He said he has talked to numerous residents who are experiencing the same kind of turmoil. “It is a problem.”
Councilman Don Fracassi, Siver and Lattimore made up the majority needed to approve the ban. Pit bulls currently residing in the city would be grandfathered in, but subject to new restrictions.
According to the restrictions, pit bulls already in the city must be registered and licensed as a pit bull; be kept on no longer than a four-foot leash and be muzzled when off the property; if the animal is kept in a dog pen, the pen must have a roof and a floor; and the owner must have liability insurance.
Melvindale, Waterford Township, Grosse Pointe Woods and Ecorse have also prohibited pit bull ownership. Twelve other municipalities, including Muskegon Heights, Roosevelt Park, Newaygo, Alma, Dearborn Heights, Westland, Morenci and Claybanks Township have enacted pit bull restrictions.
Currently, Wyandotte, Allen Park, Farmington Hills, Hazel Park and Redford Township are exploring the options regarding dangerous dogs.
“This is a health, safety and welfare issue,” Beras said, adding that he will draft the ordinance and bring it back before council at a later meeting for final approval.
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