How Many Lawyers From the Illinois Municipal League Does It Take to Screw in a Light Bulb?

By Editor
In BSL
Dec 6th, 2007
4 Comments
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How many lawyers from the Illinois Municipal League does it take to screw in a light bulb? The answer? Well, the answer doesn’t really matter, because it would seem that the Illinois Municipal League prefers to be in the dark. Read the column “Legal Q & A Animal Control: Breed Specific Regulations” published by the Illinois Municipal League and my response which follows and you’ll see what I mean:

To Whom It May Concern:

I came across the following blurb in an article I was reading yesterday regarding Camanche, Iowa’s ordinance proposal that would have restricted “pit bulls” within the city:

“City Administrator Tom Roth said people at the last meeting had asked why pit bulls. He read from two articles to explain the support for breed specific legislation, citing one from the Illinois Municipal League stating that while pit bulls are less than one percent of the total dog population, they are responsible for more than 70 percent of all fatal dog attacks.”

Not one to believe hearsay, I decided to do some research on just what the Illinois Municipal League had been saying about “pit bulls” which is when I came across your publication “Legal Q & A Animal Control: Breed Specific Regulations” by Roger Huebner and Jerry Zarley. What I wonder is how are Huebner and Zarley, and consequently the Illinois Municipal League, not embarrassed for themselves? Then I scrolled down to the resources section and saw that Kory Nelson was used as a source, which shed light on the situation completely. I won’t address Mr. Nelson’s crusade to slaughter innocent dogs (during what has been alleged to have been city time and taxpayers’ dollars), but I will address Huebner and Zarley’s column which, if it were to be believed, could potentially cause the needless deaths of many a beloved pet.

First, it is baffling to me that Huebner and Zarley would cite actual breeds – Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers – from case law and yet go on to refer to “pit bulls” throughout the entirety of their report. “Pit bull” is not a breed found within any breed registry. Indeed, the term “pit bull” is slang dog fighting jargon which formerly meant any dog that was fought. But thanks to the media and elected officials, the term “pit bull” has morphed into any medium- or large-breed dog that has mauled/killed someone, is stocky, is well-muscled, has a short coat, has a boxy head, etc. Indeed, I have seen Animal Control label even Labradors as “pit bulls.” And of course there is one infamous case wherein individuals broke into an Animal Control facility and stole Chihuahuas, mistaking them for “pit bulls.” That’s why Camanche City Administrator Tom Roth’s claim that “pit bulls” represent less than one percent of the total dog population yet are responsible for over 70% of fatal dog maulings is appalling. Where in the world did the Illinois Municipal League get such a conspicuously false statistic???…Citing such skewed statistics is tantamount to a lie since it’s not even close to the whole story. I would also be interested to know how the Illinois Municipal League, or the source you were citing, arrived at the figure of less than 1% of the dog population being “pit bulls” since, as already stated “pit bull” is not a breed, and therefore population sizes would be unknowable.

Second, Huebner and Zarley cite case law that supposedly proves that breed-specific legislation does not infringe upon 14th amendment due process and equal protection rights. Interesting how they failed to mention the case law that found that breed bans and breed-specific strictures did infringe upon or outright negate fundamental 14th amendment civil rights:

Zuniga v. San Mateo Dept. of Health Services (1990) 218 Cal. App. 3d 1521, 267 Cal. Rptr. 2d 755. The court found there was not sufficient evidence to prove Pit Bulls have an inherent nature of being dangerous.

Carter v. Metro North Assocs. (1998) 255 A.D. 2d 251; 680 N.Y.S.2d 299 A New York appellate court determined that the alleged propensities of Pit Bull Terriers to behave more viciously than other breeds had not been authoritatively established.

American Canine Foundation (ACF) litigated the city of Huntsville Alabama in 2002 in a case that was heard by the Alabama Supreme Court. Huntsville v. Four Pit Bull Puppies (Ala. 08-30-02), No.1010459, unreported. The court affirmed a trial court decision that American Pit Bull Terriers were not dangerous.

On July 16th 2003 ACF brought forth a constitutional challenge against Ohio’s state law O.R.C. 955:11 that declares the Pit Bull vicious. The case was heard in the Toledo Municipal Court. The court found the American Pit Bull Terrier was not dangerous, and granted Pit Bull owners due process. Tellings v State of Ohio CRB02-15267. While this finding was overturned on appeal, it has been alleged that evidence tampering occurred during the trial; an allegation that has necessitated further review as to the impartiality of the Ohio Supreme Court. Also, this case will soon be heard before the Supreme Court.

In August 2004 a case American Canine Foundation assisted in was heard by the Ohio Supreme Court. State v. Cowan 103 Ohio St. 3d 144 , 2004 -Ohio – 4777 The court found ORC 955:22 violative of the right to be heard as applied to ORC955:11 which declared a specific breed of dog vicious in Ohio. The decision struck down Ohio’s breed specific legislation at the state level. Ohio was the only state to have this type of legislation at the state level.

These cases show that when cases are argued properly, breed-specific legislation does not hold up as constitutional, which means breed bans and breed-specific strictures are an infringement of due process and equal protection. Also, while the rational basis test has been used effectively to uphold breed-specific bans/strictures, this is the wrong level of scrutiny to be used when deciding matters involving constitutional rights. Nor has it been proven that “pit bulls” or any actual breed are an inherent threat to the public such that there is a rational basis – safety – to deprive dog owners of their property (their dogs).

Third, “pit bulls” do not attack without provocation or without warning as Huebner and Zarley maintain via their citation of Vanater v. Village of South Point. Nor do any other actual breeds of dog. Some humans may lack the capacity to discern the warning signs, but that does not mean they are not there. And again, no one should give credence to self-professed “experts” and consequently a court that defines “pit bull” as an actual breed or that alleges that “pit bulls” behave outside of the realm of normal dog/animal behavior as if they were mythical hell hounds wrought out of the abyss by the devil himself to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting public. This type of exaggeration makes for a great comic book, but it doesn’t make for a sound legal argument. Indeed, almost 20 years on since the Vanater decision and many would be laughing at it had it and its like not been responsible for the deaths of so many innocent dogs.

“Pit bulls” also do not have locking jaws or more powerful jaws to which Dr. Brisbin testified during the Tellings trial:

“…pit bulls do not have locking jaws. Based on actual dog dissections and measurement of their skulls, the evidence demonstrated that pit bull jaw muscles and bone structure are the same as other similarly sized dogs. No evidence was presented to demonstrate that a pit bull’s bite is any stronger than other dogs of its size and build…[C]ontrary to information relied upon and perpetuated by earlier case law…and law review articles…assertions that a pit bull can bite with a “force of 2,000 pounds per square inch” have absolutely no basis in fact or scientific proof. The testing of dog bite strength has never been done, and would be difficult if not impossible to perform.”

Nor do “pit bulls” do more damage when they attack as evidenced by the fact that the first successful face transplant was performed on a French woman who was mauled by her own Labrador. All attacking dogs can do significant tissue damage due to the state they are in.

Fourth, Huebner and Zarley maintain that because “pit bulls” possess supposed “gameness,” that they are inherently vicious. Again they cite Vanater:

“Pit Bulls also posses the quality of gameness, which is not a totally clear concept, but which can be described as the propensity to catch and maul an attacked victim unrelenting until death occurs, or has the continuing tenacity and tendency to attack repeatedly for the purpose of killing. It is clear that the unquantifiable, unpredictable aggressiveness and gameness of Pit Bulls make them uniquely dangerous.”

If gameness is not a totally clear concept, then how can it be said with any authority that “pit bulls” either possess gameness, or that it makes them uniquely dangerous? How absurd! Here is what the Tellings decision, a more recent case, had to say about “gameness”:

“Many pit bulls may also exhibit a behavior or trait referred to as “gameness,” which, simply stated, is the ability or willingness to continue doing an action once begun, i.e. “stick-to-it-iveness.” Gameness, in itself, is not a negative trait. For example, the ability to carry out duties or trained tasks, despite injury, distraction, or frustration, is desirable in pit bulls which have been trained to be search and rescue dogs, protection dogs in the U.S. military, drug sniffing dogs, and therapy dogs.”

So say you were trapped beneath hundreds of pounds of twisted steel from the fallen World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001. Which search and rescue dog would you rather have, the one that gave up after its feet were lacerated and burned by sharp, smoldering steel, or the one that, oblivious to pain, kept frantically looking for you long after other dogs, and people, had fatigued?

Gameness is also a good quality to have in a hunting dog, and many hunting dogs do possess this trait. Are we to understand then that coon hounds are also supposedly inherently vicious? And for the “many” “pit bulls” that the court in the Tellings case found had gameness, there are many “pit bulls” that do not. And for those that have gameness, it is not a simple task, or even possible in many cases, to redirect that gameness to illicit activities such as dog fighting.

Fifth, Huebner and Zarley further charge, via “proof” from Vanater, that “pit bulls” have unique behavioral traits that make them inherently dangerous:

“Pit Bulls have the following distinctive behavioral characteristics: a) grasping strength, b) climbing and hanging ability, c) weight pulling ability, d) a history of frenzy, which is the trait of unusual relentless ferocity or the extreme concentration on fighting and attacking, e) a history of catching, fighting, and killing instinct, f) the ability to be extremely destructive and aggressive, g) highly tolerant of pain, h) great biting strength, I) undying tenacity and courage and they are highly unpredictable.”

Grasping strength, biting strength, and hanging ability are insinuations of stronger or locking jaws, a claim which Dr. Brisbin debunked in the Tellings case which I cited above. Weight pulling ability has nothing to do with aggression. St. Bernards are strong too. So what? These traits are used for specific tasks. For St. Bernards it is to rescue people from avalanches. For “pit bulls,” strength can be misused for dog fighting or, as already stated, it can be used for search and rescue. Additionally, plenty of medium- and large-breed dogs are strong and imposing. It does not mean they are inherently aggressive or that their strength/size can or will be used for illicit purposes or to hurt people. Indeed, if this is the thinking of the court – thinking which is wholly unreasonable and hysterical — then what medium- or large-sized breed would not be considered a threat?

Likewise, an alleged history of frenzy, a high tolerance for pain, and tenacity are broad generalizations which sound like allusions to gameness, which I have already addressed above. As for “a history of catching, fighting, and killing instinct,” one must differentiate between aggression “pit bulls” might show other dogs, and aggression “pit bulls” might, but rarely do, show humans. [And here I must assume that by “pit bulls” the court was referring to bully breeds like American Pit Bull Terriers (APBTs), American Staffordshire Terriers (AmStaffs), and Staffordshire Bull Terriers (Staffies).] Clearly, the court in Vanater was not told or did not understand that dog-on-dog aggression is not the same as dog-on-human aggression. Perhaps had this distinction been made clear to them, they would have ruled differently.

Incidentally, while the bully breeds I listed were originally bred for bull baiting and dog fighting, dogs found to be human-aggressive were culled, effectively eliminating this mutation from the bloodline. That is why APBTs, AmStaffs, and Staffies are among the most pleasing breeds in existence today scoring 84.1%, 83.9%, and 85.2% respectively on their temperament tests according to the American Temperament Test Society (atts.org). Compare these passing rates to that of the Golden Retriever (83.8%) which is thought to be a more mild-mannered breed. Also, because of bully breeds’ inherent love of children, they earned the name “the nanny dog” in the early 20th century. These pleasing traits are still found in these breeds today with a very few exceptions; the kind of exceptions that can be found and are found in any breed of dog.

Sixth, precisely because these breeds were called “the nanny dogs” prior in American history, it is unfathomable that Huebner and Zarley would say that they are an inherent threat to children. I am glad, however, that they referenced the Cary, Illinois, incident in which three supposed “pit bulls” mauled a young boy because it reveals the torch-carrying-mob mentality of those who knee-jerk, believing fabricated or sensationalized media reports, and go on to naively propose breed bans and breed-specific strictures. The dogs involved in the Cary attack were too large to have been APBTs, AmStaffs, or Staffies. Indeed, many neighbors of the dog owner have publicly stated that the dogs in question were mastiffs, not bully breeds. Additionally, after all the hysteria died down, it was revealed that the dog owner was growing marijuana in his back yard which lends credence to the theory that his dogs may have been trained to attack in order to protect the owner’s cache of drugs. How odd that Huebner and Zarley would cite this incident as an example of the supposed viciousness of “pit bulls.” I guess Hitler was right. If you tell a lie (or a lie by omission) often enough, it becomes believable after a while. Bully breeds are no more dangerous around children (indeed according to their temperament tests, less so) than other comparable breeds, with a few very rare exceptions found within any breed.

And for all the hysteria surrounding supposed “vicious” breeds like APBTs, AmStaffs, Staffies, Rottweilers, Chow Chows, Dobermans, German Shepherds, and Akitas, and elected officials’ constant drumming for breed bans and breed-specific strictures supposedly “for the sake of the children,” it is astonishing that nobody has noticed that in two decades dogs were responsible for only a couple hundred fatalities of both children and adults alike (a rate which has remained the same despite the population of the U.S. swelling to 300 million people with rates of dog ownership that have also risen substantially), while car-related fatalities kill thousands of teens a year. It’s a wonder the Illinois Municipal League isn’t trying to ban automobiles.

Seventh, Huebner and Zarley conclude that,

“…most criminal laws exist to punish people for their behavior. However, human beings have the inherent ability to reason and dogs do not. Human beings are expected to reason their way out of committing vicious acts. Therefore, human beings are punished after they commit such acts. However, dogs do not have the ability nor are they expected to reason their way out of committing vicious acts.”

Precisely! Laws exist to punish people, not animals. How, then, can Huebner and Zarley maintain that “pit bulls” are inherently vicious and go on to insinuate that they should be banned or restricted when in most cases, dog attacks/fatalities are the result of owner irresponsibility?? Is this reasonable? Animals are not capable of moral, right-or-wrong thinking. Dogs only know what they are trained, or not, to do. Still, Huebner and Zarley conclude that the only reasonable option is that “the General Assembly should review the Animal Control Act to allow municipalities and the State to regulate such vicious animals”???

The Illinois Municipal League claims to be a service organization. Due to this claim and the name itself, one must believe that the Illinois Municipal League is charged with informing Illinois municipalities about issues that affect citizens. Unfortunately, via Huebner and Zarley, the Illinois Municipal League has only told one side of the story, which violates the public trust. Worse, these half-truths, statistical manipulations, and outright falsities are being disseminated to other cities in the nation which go on to pass legislation which negates fundamental constitutional rights (particularly civil rights), conspicuously in areas predominantly inhabited by African-Americans and Hispanics. It’s as if minority thugs, gang bangers, and drug dealers (by the way, these are actual references made by animal rights organizations, the media, and elected officials to refer to the “types” of people who own “pit bulls,” which insinuates that “pit bulls” are a racial issue, not just a matter of irresponsible dog owners) were the only ones owning “pit bulls” and other so-called “vicious” breeds. Is the assumption then that minorities are too uneducated to notice? Too poor to fight back? Too disenfranchised to matter?

Ultimately, Huebner and Zarley did not prove in their column that “pit bulls” are an inherent threat to the public. They did illustrate that there is an agenda to make “pit bulls” and other supposedly “vicious” breeds extinct, however.

4 Responses to “How Many Lawyers From the Illinois Municipal League Does It Take to Screw in a Light Bulb?”

  1. Great reply No Pit Bull Bans!! I noticed in Huebner and Zarley’s footnotes they often cite dogbitelaw.com’s website. More people really ought to read this website in it’s entirety. The author clearly is a PeTA supporter, quoting them and their stance on “pit bulls” frequently. The website author also makes a very disturbing comment (not quoted verbatim) – He states the US Consitution is over 200 years old, is antiquated and needs to be changed to be in sync with the times.

    A quote like that sounds like treason – didn’t this country used to hang people like that?

  2. Caveat says:

    The dogbitelaw site has a couple of good freebie papers but overall it is an ambulance-chaser’s site.

    All these guys cherry pick to suit their fables about dogs or to make money through their law offices. Too bad they don’t have the same fears of reducing civil rights with all its far-reaching implications.

    Good letter.

    The only thing I disagree with is the aggression part, of course. I have been unable to find any scientific studies that support the idea that aggression is anything but learned, with the exception of some papers on the connection between spaying and increased reactivity and biting and neutering and increased excitability and activity.

    As for population figures, what a load of hooey. Where do they get either percentage, 1% or 70%? Both are ridiculous fabrications.

    The ADBA estimates that there are at least 5 million purebred APBTs alive in the US today. It is hands down the most popular registered purebred in the country, beating Labs by almost 50%. That just one breed of the group of breeds dubbed ‘pit bulls’ by coneheads makes up just under 10% of the dog population (estimated at about 60 million) tells you there are a lot of dogs out there who could be called ‘pit bulls’. I’ve estimated the breed group, ‘pit bull’, to be closer to 15% in purebreds alone. Then you have the lookalike purebreds. And then, you have the mongrels, which are estimated at 70 -75% of the total dog population.

    Viewed in this way, it seems that ‘pit bulls’ are actually the safest dogs around, especially since in the infamous CDC study over 20 years (’79-’98) all these ‘pit bulls’ were responsible for about 20% of fatal attacks. Not that fatal attacks can be used as any kind of yardstick, since they are so incredibly rare.

    Quick – which animal scares you more? A dog a deer or a cow?

    About 300 people are killed annually by deer, mostly in car accidents. About 110 people are killed annually by cows, directly. About 15 people a year are killed by dogs. Do the math.

    Bulldogs weren’t bred to fight or even used for fighting until much later in their history. They were trained to fight which is something quite different. Unfortunately, even today a tiny minority of callous, sociopathic people enjoy watching animals fight.

    To blame it on dogs is irrational. Of course, if Kory is involved, the insanity is inevitable. He’s unelected and has a very warped view of dogs as well as an obsession with a nonexistent breed. It’s particularly amusing that he owns a GSD – one of the top biting ‘breeds’ on the continent, according to hospital records.

  3. Kacey L. says:

    Just a note on Tellings. The SCOTUS has asked for the opposition reply but that won’t guarantee oral argument in the case. However, we all hope if they do decide to accept the case or possibly hear it, at least there would be a chance to point out the conflict in the courts below, esp. with the Cowan case, and with Moyer’s note that the trial court correctly found that the “pitbull” is not inherently dangerous (but that the legislature has found it is vicious)….To point that out isnt exactly arguing a point of law, but, uh, I guess it’s still, shall we say–somewhat inconsistent?

    On another note, con law atty/professor Jonathan T. in his recent blog, acknowledges that full cert for Tellings is somewhat of a long shot, BUT that the issue is highly controversial nationwide. Part of being certworthy usually involves either a federal question of high importance, conflicting court opinions below, or cases which conflict with governing SCOTUS precedent. He also noted that the vagueness issue was a better avenue to follow, altho the court had found for Tellings on more than just that. [The inability to ID a “pitbull” dog beyond a reasonable doubt has already been proven in Denver in 2005, so to convict on a misdemeanor w/o the standard proof should be impossible if done correctly.] I believe many courts have been persuaded to believe that identification beyond a reasonable doubt on a canine is very simple; that may be true with very distinct, papered/pedigreed dogs. It is not the case with most dogs known as “pitbulls” for obvious reasons. Like Skeldon said, if it looks like a pitbull….you know the rest.

    One last thing–everyone should be aware that a rather new site is pushing BSL across the country and allegedly it is owned by a dog attack victim in WA. My guess is that a certain person from Denver is contacting victims (after seeing case online, for example) and then using the person to front his manic behavior of insisting that BSL is the cure-all. The site even goes so far as to denigrate the ATT testing by claiming that the AKC doesn’t recognize it and neither does several other groups? And that only 27,000 dogs have been tested out of 75 mil? Highly doubtful, but this is the kind of garbage consistent with glittering generalities that decorate the site. It is indeed, one of THE worst sites I have seen in regard to pimping off inaccurate data, and it uses the ploy of victim, victim, victim to gain sympathy. Why they even sell shirts that say “Dogsbite.org” I say consider the source–res ipsa.

  4. Kacey,

    I do have a post on Tellings and I assume you meant to post your comments there so I’ll put them on that post as well:

    http://www.nopitbullbans.com/?p=602

    Please see my reply there.

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