Pit bull ban rescinded in Grosse Pointe Shores

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published November 20, 2023

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GROSSE POINTE SHORES — The Grosse Pointe Shores City Council reversed course on a controversial new vicious dog ordinance that included a ban on dogs classified as pit bulls.

The council approved a pit bull ban during a meeting Sept. 19, by a vote of 4-3 — with City Council members Donn Schroder, John Dakmak, Robert Barrette and John Seago voting in favor of it and Mayor Ted Kedzierski and City Councilwomen Sandra Cavataio and Danielle Gehlert voting against it. Three weeks later, the council reversed its decision during a special meeting Oct. 10, voting 4-3 in favor of removing pit bull ban language from the ordinance, with Kedzierski, Cavataio, Gehlert and Barrette voting in favor of rescinding the pit bull ban and Dakmak, Seago and Schroder voting against it.

The breed ban drew widespread media attention and passionate debate from residents and nonresidents on both sides of the issue.

Barrette, whose vote reversal rescinded the pit bull ban, said he decided to vote differently after seeing the division that the issue caused in the community.

“The public uproar just created such havoc,” Barrette said. “And plus, there’s a state law coming down the pike.”

At press time, Lansing legislators were considering a bill that would prohibit breed-specific bans in Michigan.

“It’s hard to enforce,” Cavataio said. “It’s costly. It’s divisive. … People love their puppies, love their dogs, and who are we to tell them what breed to have? What breed is next — German shepherds? We need to start healing and uniting if we want to be known as a friendly, family-oriented community. … Banning pit bulls is not going to make us safe.”

Dakmak said he disagreed with leaders in Lansing addressing what he felt was “a very local issue,” arguing, “All of these communities are different. They have different sizes, different demographics … and they have different wills as to what kinds of animals they want.”

Schroder, a surgeon, said the studies he has looked at show that pit bulls are responsible for three-quarters of the deaths and a large percentage of the injuries caused by dog attacks. However, some have argued that the data Schroder and some pit bull ban proponents cited has been debunked. Schroder said not all the data he used came from a website whose veracity was questioned.

“The pit bull, in my opinion — based on aggregate data from health systems across the country — has shown they can be a very ferocious animal, and it is a concern for me,” Dakmak said.

Shores resident Dr. Robert E. Lee, a vascular surgeon, was among the supporters of a pit bull ban.

“When the canine advocates claim there are no reliable prospective clinical studies to prove pit bulls are dangerous, they ignore the reality that not everything in medicine can be substantiated by well-designed prospective clinical studies,” Lee said. “In that case, one must rely on the best evidence at hand. And there is plenty of reliable information to show that pit bulls are the No. 1 killer dogs, accounting for 73% of the 218 dog deaths occurring from 2013 to 2018. Reports from multiple academic medical centers and from multiple medical specialists ranging from orthopedic surgeons to plastic surgeons to ophthalmologists, and to trauma surgeons, confirm that the pit bulls are the predominant cause of the most devastating and maiming dog bite injuries. The peer-reviewed medical literature documents that attacks by pit bulls result in higher morbidity and mortality and hospital costs than other breeds.”

Shores resident Dr. Kevin Hanlon, who also supported a pit bull ban, was unhappy about the reversal.

“I’m really disappointed that they had that change,” Hanlon said after the meeting.

Many opponents of the breed ban also addressed the council, saying that any breed of dog can be vicious and that the problem is usually on the part of the owner, not the dog. A wide-ranging array of organizations have come out against breed-specific bans, including the American Kennel Club, the Centers for Disease Control, the American Bar Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association. In addition, opponents of breed bans say that dogs responsible for attacks are often misidentified as pit bulls.

Dr. Monica Coello, who said she’s worked in a hospital emergency room for 28 years, said she had had a loving and gentle rescued pit bull, but her dachshund was “the most vicious” pet she ever had. Other owners of pit bulls likewise said their dogs weren’t at all aggressive.

Because the Shores reversed course on its pit bull ban, the Michigan Humane Society decided that it would continue to hold its annual Mutt March fundraiser on the grounds of the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in the Shores. The event, which usually takes place in June, will mark its 35th anniversary in 2024.

“We are overjoyed to see this decision by the Grosse Pointe Shores City Council,” Michigan Human Society President & CEO Matt Pepper said in a blog post after the Oct. 10 vote. “Michigan Humane is committed to helping communities create safer, healthier environments. We are happy to partner with any community that is committed to a shared goal of celebrating inclusivity and diversity, healthier neighborhoods, and safer communities.”

Ford House President & CEO Mark Heppner was also happy to see the ban rescinded. Besides the Mutt March, Ford House members are able to bring their dogs with them during certain times to stroll the grounds, and the Ford family were known to be dog lovers.

“Ford House is very pleased with city council’s decision to reverse their earlier decision,” Heppner said by email. “Decisions always have consequences and one of the unexpected consequences of their original ban was the loss of a very important community event at Ford House, Mutt March. This event brings to our community thousands of people who then become exposed to the beauty and hospitality of Grosse Pointe Shores — the things that we believe make us special.”

Heppner said the Ford House has always been happy to “help support this important organization,” referring to MHS.

The Grosse Pointe Animal Adoption Society — which had withdrawn its service agreement with the Shores to shelter lost or injured animals found in the city after the pit bull ban was enacted — agreed to once again provide this service to the Shores when the council eliminated the breed ban.

That’s not to say that this issue is over, though. Shores resident Becky Booth is among those who feel the ordinance that was passed by the council remains flawed and in need of revision, citing provisions such as a search and seizure without a warrant in the event of a suspected vicious dog incident.

“It’s the same bad ordinance,” Booth said.

She hopes city leaders take up offers by residents and animal experts to form a committee to revise and improve the ordinance. The Michigan Humane Society has volunteered its services.

“Michigan Humane is more than happy to partner with the city … to help you make Grosse Pointe Shores the safest community it can be,” said Ann Griffin, director of advocacy for MHS.