Editor’s note: Following is a letter sent by an Elgin resident to the Elgin, Illinois Mayor and City Council regarding their intent to propose breed-specific legislation (BSL). The Elgin resident was originally corresponding with Councilman John Prigge, who it sounds like is in support of BSL, but the letter was sent to the whole council.
I’m going to CC the rest of the council in on my response to you because there is pertinent information here that I hope they will find valuable as well.
Thank you for sending me the article about the recent dog attack in Texas. No one would dispute the horror of a dog bite/attack, especially one resulting in a fatality. But dog-bite-related fatalities are not limited to one breed, and again, “pit bull” is a catch-all designation that can refer to countless breeds. Do you propose to ban or restrict ten, twenty, or thirty breeds? Even the articles written about the incident in question refer to the dogs as both “pit bulls” and American Bulldogs. Well which is it? It is typical of the media and those involved in dog bites/attacks to get the breed wrong. So how do you know these breeds are “dangerous” or “vicious” when the dogs in question are seldom ever even properly identified? Doesn’t it worry you that you may be restricting or banning the wrong breeds? And how do you and the Council propose to define “pit bull”?
I am, however, grateful that you included that article in your response because that situation illustrates perfectly that irresponsible owners, not a breed or breeds, are to blame when it comes to dog attacks. And as I’ve said to you and shown you and the council again and again, breed bans and/or breed restrictions have proven to be ineffective in preventing bites/attacks/fatalities which is why BSL is being repealed repeatedly right now.
So what would I say to the family who just lost their boy in that attack? That the same irresponsible owners who don’t vaccinate or contain their dogs also won’t abide by the law and comply with a breed ban/restrictions…
[I]t is overly-simplistic and even prejudicial to point to a breed or breeds every time there is an attack and/or dog-bite-related fatality. There are far too many mitigating factors to simply look at breed as causation. Where were the dogs’ owners? Why were the dogs free-roaming? What was the situation? What provoked the dogs? Etc.
The dogs’ owner should be charged with manslaughter in my opinion. This alone would act as a deterrent which is why I lobby for harsher penalties to punish negligent owners. Tougher laws deter irresponsible ownership. It is also typical in dog bites/attacks (although perhaps not this one) that the dogs had prior complaints filed with Animal Control that should have been addressed and weren’t. Again, a well-enforced leash/containment law and harsher penalties for owners of irresponsible dogs is deterrent enough to prevent tragedies like these.
It worries me too Sir that as I watched you take your oath of office and you swore to uphold the Constitution that you would go on a mere month later to get behind breed-specific legislation that has in several court venues been determined to be unconstitutional. You say that you will do what’s best for Elgin. Is it in citizens’ best interests that you violate their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property? (A 14th amendment civil right.) You’ve sent me an article that you believe substantiates your argument but in actuality it proves mine: that neither Elgin, nor any other municipality, can accurately determine breed such that it is legal or constitutional to restrict specific breeds. Passing breed-specific legislation when a dog’s breed cannot be accurately identified is an equal protection violation under the Constitution you swore an oath to uphold.
The article you sent illustrates perfectly that irresponsible ownership is not limited to one breed. You ask if any price is too high to save someone’s life implying that Elgin should pay any price to enforce BSL and yet you seemingly ignore all evidence pointing to BSL’s ineffectiveness. Those who gave testimony at the Elgin City Council meeting a month ago asking for a breed ban can be forgiven their ignorance. You, however, have been informed of BSL’s ineffectiveness with the most current information, studies, and evidence (including how many cities and even countries are moving away from BSL or overturning it altogether due to its proven ineffectiveness), and cannot claim ignorance at this point, assuming you are reading all the materials being sent to you. (And I would certainly hope that you and the council are reading all the materials sent to you given the gravity of the ordinance you may propose.)
The cost for BSL in Elgin, approximately $130,000 according to the BSL calculator, is too high to pay for an ordinance that cannot be enforced, does not deter bites/attacks or negligent owners, and that violates fundamental civil rights (i.e. citizens’ constitutional rights). Elgin cannot afford a $30,000 fireworks display and yet you would ask the council to enforce an impotent breed-specific ordinance that costs almost five times that a year? How would you propose to fund the enforcement of a breed-specific ordinance?
“Pit bulls” are not the problem in Elgin. They have never been the problem. Gangs, prostitution, drug-running (Need I mention David Steeves?) these are the problems in Elgin. BSL is a mere band-aid solution to these very real problems that put the city’s innocent citizens, including their children, at risk. And yet BSL is the most important thing the Council must address???
I ask you Sir, what are the costs of not addressing the REAL problems Elgin faces? And what do you tell the parents of youths like David Steeves who didn’t have to die and yet did because Elgin denied that there was a gang and drug problem here??? Dog attacks are often a symptom of a larger societal problem like gangs. We certainly have that problem in Elgin. Why not address these very real issues that your constituents face? Elgin residents, myself included, have had to deal with too many drivebys, gang graffiti, and violence to believe that we, our children in particular, are not in danger of the very real threat gang warfare poses. So why not address these problems instead of the band-aid solution that BSL proposes to be?
Elgin prides itself on being progressive. BSL is not progressive. It is prejudicial, and worse, masks the real problems faced by the community. People are hurting right now due to the economy, which means crime is on the rise. Why not propose legislation that works with the community instead of proposing ineffective legislation that punishes the innocent?