Letter from an Elgin, Illinois Man Who Doesn’t Think His City Council is Listening to Him
Editor’s note: The following letter comes to us from an Elgin, Illinois man who is frustrated that the information he presented to the Elgin, Illinois City Council about the ineffectiveness of breed-specific legislation (BSL) has gone ignored. The only response he received from his so-called representatives was from Councilman Prigge who ignored completely the man’s citation of relevant and recent court cases in which breed-specific legislation had been ruled unconstitutional, or, as it was in a case in Denver in which it was demonstrated that not one of Denver’s Animal Control officers could identify an American Pit Bull Terrier as per their own ordinance. Also ignored was a recent ruling in a Toledo, Ohio Municipal Court wherein it was determined that parts of Toledo’s breed-specific ordinance could not be enforced under the semblance of home rule doctrine because those parts of the ordinance were unconstitutional, going above and beyond state law. Now, this Toledo ruling should be very telling for other states that think they can pass breed-specific legislation with impunity using home rule as an excuse. Not so surprisingly, Mr. Prigge completely ignored any legal precedent that showed that the breed-specific section of the proposed Elgin ordinance might be unconstitutional or above and beyond the purview of the feigned iron-cladness of home rule. Moreover, we’re told Mr. Prigge adopted a bring-it-on attitude, claiming the City was prepared for any legal challenges to the breed-specific portion of the ordinance, which lends credence to the theory that perhaps Elgin is asking to be sued in order to set a precedent in Illinois for BSL under the guise of home rule:
Mayor Edward Schock
Councilman Richard Dunne
Councilman Robert Gilliam
Councilman David Kaptain
Councilman John Prigge
Councilman F. John Steffen
Councilman Mike Warren
As an Elgin resident, I am greatly disappointed that all mine and other people’s evidence about the ineffectiveness of breed-specific legislation (BSL) has seemingly fallen on deaf ears. Meanwhile, your citizens came out in large numbers and many more opposed BSL than wanted it, to tell you they did not want BSL, and yet still a breed-specific provision was added to the proposed Animal Ordinance proposal?
More baffling still is that the ordinance introduction [Clicking the preceding link will lead to the PDF file of the Meeting of the Whole Agenda which contains the ordinance proposal in its entirety beginning on page 64.] cites as evidence for BSL a 21-year-old court case (Vanater v. Village of South Point) and widely discredited “studies” by Merritt Clifton and the CDC that relied on mere media reports of dog attacks and/or that cited “pit bull-type dog” or “pit bull terrier” as if they were actual breeds when in fact that term encompasses a number of breeds. Your own ordinance defines at least three breeds and any dog sharing the “pit bull’s” characteristics as “pit bulls.” Any statistics that list a handful or more of breeds, their mixes, and dogs that have characteristics of the named breeds as if they were one breed are sure to be inaccurate, which is precisely the conclusion the CDC came to in the study cited in the Elgin ordinance proposal! Additionally, the use, or misuse, of AKC and UKC breed standards and the unconstitutionally vague descriptor “any dog exhibiting those distinguishing characteristics which substantially conform to the standards established by the American Kennel Club or United Kennel Club for any of the above breeds” to uphold BSL is not only a copyright infringement, but could potentially open up the city to a lawsuit on such grounds.
Elgin owners of “pit bulls” and breeds deemed similar to “pit bulls” will be unable to determine whether they have a “pit bull” as defined by the City since the City itself has not sufficiently defined what is and what is not a “pit bull.”
And why does the introduction to this ordinance not cite more recent court cases and/or court cases that have ruled BSL unconstitutional? Should this not also have been provided to the council as evidence so that they could make an informed decision based on all the facts rather than only looking at the BSL issue from the “pro” side? For instance,
*The Lucas County, Ohio Dog Warden’s office stopped enforcing parts of its vicious-dogs law and “pit bull” ownership restrictions after a Toledo Municipal Court Judge ruled in a January 20, 2010, opinion that parts of the law were unconstitutional and in conflict with home-rule doctrine, as the requirements go above and beyond state law.
*In 2004’s Denver v. Margolius, all of Denver’s Animal Control officers were proven to be unable to determine beyond a reasonable doubt what was and what was not an American Pit Bull Terrier as defined by their own ordinance.
*American Canine Foundation 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.
*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 American Pit Bull Terriers to behave more viciously than other breeds had not been authoritatively established.
*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.
In testimony from the Toledo v. Tellings case in 2006, Dr. I. Lehr Brisbin, Ph.D., who is a Senior Research Scientist at the Savanna River Ecology Laboratory and an expert in training, handling, behavior and the anatomy of bully breeds testified that,
“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 court also noted in its decision that,
“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.”
As ever, dogs can be trained to do good things or bad things, which indicates an owner issue, not a breed issue.
Do you see why relying so heavily on one case from 1989 might be a bad idea and might lead Elgin citizens to believe that the only research conducted by the City was that which supported BSL, suggesting the decision to pursue BSL was a done deal before any research had even been conducted? My citations above at the very least include court cases from this century! Is it not unfair to cite such an old court case when so much precedent since then has refuted the suppositions made in Vanater?
It’s particularly unfair to breeds like the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier that regularly score 85.3%, 83.9%, and 88% respectively on their temperament tests. Compare these findings to that of the Golden Retriever (84.6%), which is considered a mild-mannered breed, and you’ll see that they are comparable or above the Golden Retriever’s score. (Source: atts.org)
Also unfair is that so many of these provisions that are required of “pit bull” owners in order to keep their dogs are cost-prohibitive and unreasonable. Is it really fair to require “pit bull” owners to have a 6-foot tall fence? Do you know how much a 6-foot tall fence will cost these owners? Thousands of dollars. Do you consider this a reasonable requirement in an economic depression? Similarly, who these days can afford evaluation and training of their dogs by a behaviorist et al, or expensive, specialized signage?
Similarly, have you considered that it may not be possible for “pit bull” owners to aquire liability insurance at all let alone in the amount of $500,000? And given these requirements, perhaps you know that a majority of “pit bull” owners will be forced to give up their beloved pets. I know Mayor Schock owns or has owned German Shepherds, a breed which has also been defined in several breed-specific ordinances as a dangerous breed. How would he feel if such requirements were made of him simply because he owned a certain type of dog?
Why isn’t the Dangerous Dog Law (DDL) enough? That’s the compromise, not a cost-prohibitive breed-specific provision with which only the responsible owners will comply. DDLs have proven to be effective tools in deterring dog bites/attacks. Meanwhile, BSL has proven to be unconstitutional, unenforceable, unfair, and has shown to punish only responsible dog owners.
As a tax-paying citizen of Elgin, I do not want my hard-earned money being wasted on the legal defense of a ridiculous breed-specific ordinance that is vague, undecipherable in places, and which, for the BSL part at least, is sure to cause pandemonium in the city I call home. I beg of you, please reconsider the breed-specific provisions of this ordinance proposal and remove them. If not, and the Council passes this ordinance with breed-specific provisions, then I’m sorry to say that I cannot in good conscience vote to re-elect those who would so unabashedly and cold-heartedly do this to the responsible, law-abiding dog owners of Elgin and their dogs.