Anti-BSL letter to Mayor Summers & Lakewood City Council

Mayor Mike Summers
CC: Lakewood City Council
David W. Anderson
Sam O’Leary
John Litten
Dan O’Malley
Thomas Bullock
Meghan George
Tristan Radar

Lakewood City Hall
12650 Detroit Ave
Lakewood, OH 44107

January 28, 2018

Re: Mayor Summers continued support of Pit Bull bans

Dear Mayor Summer and Lakewood City Council:

2018 started off on a great note when Mayor Summers announced an end to the current Pit Bull Ban in Lakewood, and he started conversations with the city with the intent of evolving the dog safety laws to something more conducive to Lakewood’s diverse, densely populated city. A number of the new pieces make a lot of sense in terms of helping to curb potential dog violence. However, I fail to understand why we would implement a more inclusive policy and at the same time make unscientific, broad generalizations to exclude animals that have yet to pose a danger.  Dogs may not have human rights, but I feel safe in saying that the city of Lakewood still believes in innocent until proven guilty.

While this debate invokes strong emotions on both sides, I would like to approach you with a perspective based solely on the desire to keep the city safe. I am a Lakewood resident.  I have been since August of 2005.  I live on Carabel with my wife and five kids (ages range from 4-10).  We do own dogs, but they do not have any “pit” in them.  One of the dogs is a six pound miniature pinscher.  So when it comes to laws protecting the community from viscous dogs, I fully support a plan that is based on data and appropriate risk assessment.

I think it is important to review how Lakewood got to its current status with dog laws as some of you were not in office in 2008 when the ball started rolling. Former City Councilperson Brian Powers along with former Mayor Edward Fitzgerald proposed a pit bull ban in response to a dog attack earlier in the year.  To support the ban, Powers cited articles and statistics that have since become disproven or were outright falsehoods.  He hyperbolically claimed that “every legitimate study conducted in America, including the study by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, has demonstrated that pit bull bites are more likely to result in a fatality than bites or attacks by any other breeds.”[1] In the same article, Powers cites studies done in the 1980’s from the Journal of the American Medical Association.  Since most animal experts agree that the only true way to tell a dog’s breed is through DNA evidence, there is no way to validate any of these studies that were done twenty years prior to the legislation being enacted.

In the same article by Powers, he cites that “an outright ban is easier to enforce than a complicated law requiring leashes, muzzles, fences, and insurance.”[2]  He cites cities like Youngstown and Toledo as success stories when both cities have since removed their BSL language.  In fact, the state of Ohio (the only state that had BSL) removed pit bulls from their definition of vicious dogs in 2012.[3]  Instead, it focused on dog measures that held owners accountable, increased public education, and addressed all aggressive dogs in a uniform manner.  Since this decision, municipalities throughout Ohio have been abandoning their BSL policies for more breed neutral policies, examples, Avon Lake, Bexley, Brecksville, Cincinnati, Mansfield, Shaker Heights, Toledo, and Youngstown.  When cities have not removed BSL voluntarily, citizens have taken municipalities to court, where BSL is eventually overturned or is sided with the dog owner.  Not even a year ago, the Ohio Supreme Court sided with Darlene Russ when she challenged Reynoldsburg’s pit bull ban.[4]  While Lakewood has not had any court cases make it to the Ohio Supreme Court to overturn our current legislation regarding pit bulls, we have already spent too much of tax payers money on losing court cases between Tarquinio v City of Lakewood, Ohio and Scott v City of Lakewood.  Since Ohio was the only state that utilized BSL has now found it ineffective for public safety, we should not be on the wrong side of history; and follow suit with the rest of our neighbors.  Our own neighboring city, Avon Lake, has called out Lakewood for our terrible dog regulations and even offered Councilperson Sam O’Leary help to construct a more effective dog measure. “Kos said he wanted a more innovative law that would treat all dogs the same.  The result is what he calls one of the toughest, but still fair, danger-dog ordinances that holds owners responsible for their dog’ actions and not the breed.  Kos said he saw Lakewood was having the same controversy with the breed and reached out via email last September to Lakewood Council President Sam O’Leary but received no response.”[5]  What I find most disturbing about this story isn’t the fact that Avon Lake is calling out Lakewood, but it was the fact that Lakewood Council President Sam O’Leary’s response to the story was that “he did not draft the proposed ordinance.”[6]  As Council President, I would expect that he would be interested in any assistance the city could use to make it safer and not to dismiss it because he was not going to get the credit.

While Ohio has changed its views on effective dog safety measures, Lakewood continues to hold on to antiquated beliefs that pit bulls are the cause of a majority of dog violence and are still excluded in Mayor Summers’ new proposals. Instead of listening to the experts in the field or the State of Ohio when it comes to public safety, Mayor Summers touts an unverified study out of the University of Texas Health Sciences Center.  This is a study where the lead author will not respond to peer review questions to validate and explain their process.  According to fatal-dog bite expert Karen Delise, “On the basis of my experience with this issue, I am dismayed by the erroneous data, the use of questionable sources, and the lack of fact checking that characterizes Dr. Bini’s article.”[7] Additionally, the city uses the support of PETA to justify still allowing pit bulls to be banned.  PETA is the same group who opposes pet ownership in general[8] and has been investigated for domestic terrorism by the FBI[9] and USDA[10].

If anything, the experts in the field (yes, even Powers’ own cited CDC) have come out in opposition to Breed Specific Legislation (BSL aka Pit Bull Bans):

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – “Current Breed Specific ordinances have proven ineffective in reducing the number of pit bulls in Topeka or the number of dog bites. Breed Specific Legislation, i.e. targeting a particular breed such as American Pit Bull Terriers, has generally been discredited in actual experience of cities, professionals, and academic research as being both ineffective and expensive.”[11]
  • American Bar Association – “the American Bar Association urges all state, territorial, and local legislative bodies and governmental agencies to adopt comprehensive breed-neutral dangers dog/reckless owner laws that ensure due process protections for owners, encourage responsible pet ownership and focus on the behavior of both dog owners and dogs, and to repeal any breed discriminatory or breed specific provisions.”[12]
  • State Farm Insurance – “We do not ask nor do we care what breed of dog is owned by a person. So when we are writing home owner’s insurance, rental insurance, or renewing policies, it is nowhere in our questions what breed of dog is owned.”[13]

While some like Mayor Summers and Councilperson Bullock refer to a majority of us as “just the dog community,” we are still voting members of this city and ask that our representation listens to us instead of dismissing us with ad hominems. None of us want zero dog ordinances or the wild west of dog ownership.  We want objective dog safety measures that have proven records of success. Instead of focusing on the breed of the dog, let’s focus on what actions in which we all agree:

  • Insurance on dogs at recommended levels by the industry
  • All dogs must be leashed at all times unless restricted by a secured fence or front porch (standard 6’ leash, not retractable)
  • Dogs cannot be tethered
  • Lakewood dog registration where fees can go towards pet safety and awareness programs
  • Animal safety instruction implemented with school programs like Safety Town
  • Landlord support to assist when renters are dog owners
  • Increased fines for violations
  • Tiered offense levels for dogs – nuisance, dangerous, viscous

There is so much room to compromise and enact tough dog-safety measures that can be successful. Focusing on the breed of the animal is not necessary and undermines the conversation.  The outlined above provide real security instead of hoping it is just a specific breed that is causing concern.  As a father, dog-lover, and citizen of Lakewood, I urge Mayor Summers and Lakewood City Council to enact strict dog laws while avoiding specifying specific breeds to accomplish those goals.

Sincerely,

Bradley A Presutto

2178 Carabel Ave
Lakewood, OH 44107

440.941.0043
bpresutto@gmail.com

[1] Frequently Asked Questions about the Proposed Pit Bull Ban, Brian Powers, May 25, 2008, The Lakewood Observer, http://lakewoodobserver.com/read/2008/25/05/frequently-asked-questions-about-the-proposed.

[2] Frequently Asked Questions about the Proposed Pit Bull Ban, Brian Powers, May 25, 2008, The Lakewood Observer, http://lakewoodobserver.com/read/2008/25/05/frequently-asked-questions-about-the-proposed.

[3] Pit bulls no longer deemed vicious by Ohio law that takes effect Tuesday (poll), Donna J. Miller, May 21, 2012, Cleveland Plain Dealer, http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2012/05/pit_bulls_no_longer_deemed_vic.html.

[4] Court Strikes Down Ohio Town’s Pit Bull Ban, ASPCA News Brief, April 27, 2017, ASPCA website, https://www.aspca.org/news/court-strikes-down-ohio-towns-pit-bull-ban.

[5] Councilman notes Avon Lake dog laws aren’t breed-specific, Cindy Breda, January 16, 2018, The Chronicle, http://www.chroniclet.com/Local-News/2018/01/16/Councilman-notes-Avon-Lake-dog-laws-aren-39-t-breed-specific.html.

[6] Councilman notes Avon Lake dog laws aren’t breed-specific, Cindy Breda, January 16, 2018, The Chronicle, http://www.chroniclet.com/Local-News/2018/01/16/Councilman-notes-Avon-Lake-dog-laws-aren-39-t-breed-specific.html.

[7] Why The Texas Study on Mortality, Mauling & Maiming by Vicious Dogs Is Scientifically Unreliable, Pit Bulletin Legal News, July 4, 2014, http://legal.pblnn.com/9-uncategorised/121-why-the-texas-study-on-mortality-mauling-a-maiming-by-vicious-dogs-is-scientifically-unreliable.

[8] Animal Rights Uncompromised: ‘Pets’, PETA News Bulletin, PETA website, https://www.peta.org/about-peta/why-peta/pets/

[9] FBI Anti-Terror Unit Investigated PETA, PETA kills animals, May 12, 2015, https://www.petakillsanimals.com/fbi-anti-terror-unit-investigated-peta/.

[10] PETA Classified as a “Terrorist Threat” by the USDA, Will Porter, November 30, 2009, Green is the New Red website, http://www.greenisthenewred.com/blog/peta-terrorists-usda-form/2374/.

[11] Breed-Specific Policies: No Basis in Science, The Humane Society of the United States, News Brief, http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/breed-specific-legislation/fact_sheets/breed-specific-legislation-no-basis-in-science.html.

[12] American Bar Association, Adopted by the House of Delegates, August 6-7, 2012, Resolution, https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/mental_physical_disability/Resolution_100.authcheckdam.pdf.

[13] Breed-Specific Policies: No Basis in Science, The Humane Society of the United States, News Brief, http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/breed-specific-legislation/fact_sheets/breed-specific-legislation-no-basis-in-science.html.

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