Hazel Park repeals ban on pit bulls

Bully breeds allowed, with certain restrictions

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published May 15, 2015


HAZEL PARK — The Hazel Park City Council has agreed to lift the city’s ban on pit bulls following feedback from animal advocacy groups, residents and individuals looking to move into the city. However, there will be some restrictions put in place. 

The decision was made during a special meeting May 6, undoing the ordinance that was put into effect in 2012. City Manager Ed Klobucher said the ban originally came about in response to a rash of pit bull attacks. He said 45 attacks occurred between 2009 and 2015.

“We’ve been down significantly (in attacks) since the ban was enacted,” Klobucher said. “However, we were approached by a group of residents who requested council revisit the complete ban on pit bulls. Council studied the issue, took testimony from the public, and decided to lift the ban but leave some restrictions in place.”

Alissa Sullivan, a Hazel Park resident and pit bull owner, questioned whether all of the incidents were actually attacks and/or involving pit bulls. She said a pit bull is not so much a specific breed as it is a generalization of a certain look — the blocky head, stout body, forward-facing ears, erect tail, broad shoulders and short coat.

But she’s happy to see the ban lifted.

“I feel relieved that my community is willing to think of an alternative option for what they have previously done,” said Sullivan, who also volunteers with the Michigan Political Action Committee for Animals, as well as several other groups: CHAINED Inc., a group helping dogs chained up outside; Devoted Barn, a rescue for farm animals; and the Buster Foundation, a rescue for bully breeds.   

“I’m thankful they (City Council) were willing to hear what we had to say, and to go on facts instead of emotion,” Sullivan said.

The new restrictions, some of which include non-bully breeds, are as follows:

• All new pit bulls seeking licenses in Hazel Park must undergo a behavioral assessment with an approved evaluator. The city is currently working with different animal groups to determine the qualifications for evaluators and the criteria for evaluations.

• All owners of pit bulls must have homeowners insurance if they’re owner-occupied. Renters must have renters insurance covering dog bites, and landlords must have liability insurance.

• Pit bull owners must have a fenced-in area that can contain the dog. For pit bulls, if the fence is not at least 6 feet in height, the owner must accompany the dog when it goes outside.

• No pit bull may be tethered to an inanimate object, and no dog of any breed can be tethered to an inanimate object outside if the owner is not home.

• No spiked collars are allowed for any dog of any breed.

• Intact pit bulls (ones that have not been spayed or neutered) must be muzzled while they’re out walking.

• All dogs must be on a leash when out walking, and no dog may be tethered in front of a house.

“We had a spike in the number of pit bull-related attacks prior to the ban. What we’re trying to do now is recognize that not all pit bulls are dangerous, and many owners are responsible, and many of those pets pose no threat to anyone,” Klobucher said. “At the same time, we want to ensure the safety of our residents. The residents who own pit bulls need to take special care. Again, there are individual pit bulls who are much less likely to attack anyone than dogs of other breeds … so council tried to reach a wise compromise where they were fair to the good dogs, while still protecting our residents from dangerous dogs and bad owners.” 

Sullivan said she is satisfied with the restrictions, for the most part. She thinks they should apply to all dogs in all cases, and she wouldn’t mind seeing one more restriction: No minor should be allowed to walk a dog when unaccompanied by an adult.

“If Fluffy gets away (from a kid), how can the kid get him back?” Sullivan said.

As a longtime pit bull owner, she said pit bulls are often misunderstood.

“I can’t tell you how often these dogs face discrimination,” Sullivan said. “People are often afraid of what they don’t know. And people hear rumors and see the media hype, the headlines. … Many of the people who say they don’t like pit bulls haven’t actually met one.”

She said breed tracking can be unreliable in the stories of alleged pit bull attacks, and that in cases where attacks do occur, there are often other factors involved, like a lack of spaying or neutering leading to aggressive behavior, or irresponsible owners leaving the dog chained up outside without shelter or access to food and water.

“All dogs can bite and be dangerous if not trained and socialized properly — that goes for Chihuahuas on up. If you can get the community to take better care of their pets, it benefits everyone,” Sullivan said. “You can even train pit bulls so that when they meet someone, they roll over and let you pet their belly.”

Sullivan said pit bulls are high-energy animals that require lots of exercise and stimulation. They’re playful and people-pleasing, she said, making them adept at agility training.

“I can’t emphasize enough their energy level — they don’t get tired until they’re 9,” Sullivan laughed. “They’re kind of the clowns of the dog world. They can be very goofy. They’re also the snuggliest dogs you’ll ever meet. It’s 80 degrees out, and I have two dogs laying on me. They’ll snuggle on each other. We call it the pit bull pile.”

At the end of the day, “They want to be safe, happy, housed, fed and well-loved,” Sullivan said. “Every living creature on the planet wants those things.”