Heights officials talking pit bull ban after attacks

By J. PATRICK PEPPER
Times-Herald Newspapers

HEIGHTS — Recent pit bull attacks have city officials considering a ban on the stout, muscular breed considered by many to be dangerous.

Over the course of three days last month, pit bull attacks sent three people to the hospital with significant injuries, and both incidents could have been much worse if it hadn’t been for brave passers-by.

On Sept. 23, 51-year-old P.J. Stevens was mauled by two pit bulls that escaped a backyard in the 24000 block of Stanford. The dogs chewed and bit Stevens across most of her body until a neighbor came to her aid and got the dogs to stop. As of Wednesday, Stevens still was hospitalized at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, according to published reports.

Two days after she was attacked, another pit bull escaped from a backyard and attacked a 10-year-old girl in the 24600 block of Colgate. A 75-year-old man who was walking by intervened and saved the girl, but both of them suffered injuries requiring more than a dozen stitches to close.

All three dogs involved were taken to the Taylor Animal Shelter, and authorities said they would seek criminal charges against their owners. But as the victims recover and the dogs await their fates, the incidents have served as a catalyst for debate over whether pit bulls should be banned from the city.

“We’ve had two serious incidents in this city in the last week, and quite frankly I think we ought to consider banning them,” said Mayor Daniel Paletko last week at the Sept. 28 City Council meeting.

“What we saw was a mauling of people,” he said. “There’s a difference with (pit bulls) – the destruction they do to a human – there’s something wrong with that breed.”

Most of the council seemed to share Paletko’s concerns, and some also questioned whether a ban would be possible. The renewed interest in a pit bull ban comes just two years after a string of attacks by the dogs led the council to study the issue in 2008. Questions about enforcement and the legality of a ban sidelined the initiative then, but the most recent attacks have the matter gaining steam again.

“I would like to request that corporation counsel begins to research the constitutionality of the ban to see if anything has changed since last time,” said Councilwoman Margaret Van Houten.

Underscoring the point that the current ordinance wasn’t working as planned, Councilwoman Janet Badalow asked if the dogs involved in the recent attacks were registered with the city, to which the answer was yes.

But one issue that could prove sticky as the council considers banning a breed of man’s best friend: What about the people that live here and already own them?

“We had a lady come in yesterday – and this is a question I’m going to have if you do this ban – she said if the city put a ban on them, she’d move,” said City Clerk Judy Dudzinski. “People that have them love them, so is there any way we could grandfather them in?”

City Attorney Gary Miotke said it would be possible to include a grandfather clause, and that the city could model it after Allen Park’s pit bull ban, which includes a similar provision.