Revisiting the Pit Bull issue

In the winter of 2010-2011, the Rochester Hills City Council debated the need for a breed specific ordinance for Pit Bulls after some biting incidents in our community. City Councilman Martin Brennan and I wrote Point/Counter Point editorials for Rochester Media and other media outlets on the Pros and Cons of such a ban. Rochester Media has asked me to revisit the issue a few years later.

Rochester Hills City Councilman Michael Webber

Rochester Hills City Councilman Michael Webber

At the time I made the following points against banning a specific breed – and I still believe strongly in their validity:

  1. The focus should be on the owner and not the dog.
  2. How do you identify if a dog is a pit bull and who is qualified to decide?
  3. Breed specific ordinances do not work (See Waterford example below)
  4. Where do you draw the line on what breeds are banned?
  5. Would the ban be immediate or would we grandfather in pit bulls that currently live within our city?

After much discussion within our community, the Council did pass amendments to the existing ordinance that strengthened what was already in place—placing the burden on the dog owner—without banning specific breeds. As I look back on that decision two years later, I still believe that it was the right thing to do. The amendments drew unanimous support from the council.

The ordinance has had an impact, but we should keep in mind that these are rare incidents. In 2012, the city had 32 reported dog bites from over 20 different dog breeds. The argument still holds that the city would have to ban all breeds on that list if we were to be fair regarding breed specific ordinances.

Recently, I read with interest the case in Waterford where a pit bull bit three individuals. All three were familiar with the pit bull – they owned the dog that bit them. No one can understand why the dog bit the three individuals, but this certainly was not a case of an owner allowing a dog to roam free and attack their neighbors. In this case, the breed specific ordinance in Waterford (which some residents are trying to amend) did not work.

As part of our ordinance, we do require that dogs be on leashes when they are walked within neighborhoods, parks, etc. Some communities do not have this requirement, but I think it is important in order to control the dog in potential crowds of people. In addition, we ask that dogs be registered at City Hall

A few years back we had a series of tragic events within our community that we tried to keep in proper perspective. It is important during any emotional debate to take a step back and review the facts so that a knee jerk reaction does not cause an over reach of government. I believe that because we did that, the ordinance has been effective and we have moved passed the debate regarding breed specific bans.

The idea for the Point/Counter Point article was Councilman Brennan’s. The articles couldn’t work unless the authors knew and respected each other. We just had a different viewpoint on the subject. Marty was a dear friend who passed away months after the articles were published. I am glad we had a chance to write the articles a few years back—we are connected forever in that regard.

Michael Webber

Vice President

Rochester Hills City Council



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