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Beline Obeid

Park council puts bite in pit bull ban

Grosse Pointe Park

August 28, 2008
Though some believe there are no bad dogs, just bad owners, the Grosse Pointe Park City Council is taking no chances.

At its Aug. 25 meeting, members approved a new ordinance that covers both dogs and the people who own them.

Designed to give the public safety department the leverage and discretion it needs to deal with dangerous dogs, the ordinance bans any breed commonly referred to as a "pit bull." Included are any bull terrier breeds, Staffordshire bull terriers, American Staffordshire bull terriers, American pit bull terriers and any mixed breed dog that has the appearance or characteristics of a pit bull.

The ordinance also clearly defines a "dangerous dog" and the penalties for keeping one. A dog is considered dangerous if it "causes injury to a person or domestic animal, chases or menaces a person or domestic animal in an aggressive manner, or acts in a highly aggressively manner within a fenced or enclosed area, and appears to a reasonable person able to jump over or escape."

Also, any dog running free picked up by the police or animal control two or more times in a 12-month period can be considered dangerous and the owner will be fined.

The ordinance also sets minimum requirements for owning a dog in Grosse Pointe Park that include licensing the dog with the city, keeping it on a leash or in a secured area at all times when outdoors, and cleaning up any droppings left by the dog in public areas.

"Ninety-nine percent of the pet owners have wonderful pets and don't present a problem," said Councilman Dan Clark.

"We have tailored this ordinance to cover irresponsible pet owners and the animals who pose a clear and present danger to the citizens of Grosse Pointe Park."

The ordinance takes effect immediately and dogs currently living in the city are not excused from the ban. That doesn't mean that pit bulls must be out of town by sundown, either.

According to Public Safety Director Chief David Hiller, the city can't simply go into homes and remove the animals.

"We will work with the city attorney on the best way to enact this," he said. "One of the first ways will be through the licensing process. All dog licenses must be renewed in December and we won't renew a license for a pit bull. By not having a licensed dog, the owner will be in violation of the ordinance and that will give us a starting point for removing the dog.

"Of course, if the dog is running loose or is shown to be a threat under the ordinance, we can take the necessary steps now to remove the dog."

Several residents spoke at the meeting welcoming the ban on pit bulls and urging the council to approve the ordinance.

"I'm very concerned for the well-being of my own dogs because of a pit bull on my block," said one resident. "Those dogs have some wires crossed. They just can't be trusted."

Another resident, while praising the ordinance, expressed concern for the public safety officers that have to enforce it.

"Those dogs can be vicious and I'm worried about what our officers might face," she told the council. "We may want to think of providing them with the auxiliary items they might need for their own safety."

According to Hiller, the department is ready.

"It was the police department that pushed for this ordinance," he said. "And while it bans pit bulls, it also gives us discretion in dealing with other dog problems. It gives us the flexibility we needed."

It might also give residents a good night's sleep, as the ordinance allows officers to ticket the owners of dogs that habitually bark, yelp or howl.

Violations carry a graduated fine schedule that tops off at $500 and/or 90 days in jail.

Several cities have similar bans on pit bull breeds, including Grosse Pointe Woods.

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