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Down on the Dogs

Jack Lessenberry

For years, we’ve had intense debates about two things that can be extremely deadly, are feared and loathed by many people and intensely, even fanatically, loved by others.

Both can easily kill, and both are much in the news right now. What I am talking about are guns, and pit bulls. The world knows about the two latest mass firearm murders in France and California. But last week Michigan was horrified by two pit bull attacks.

A four year old boy in Detroit walking with his mother was dragged under a fence and torn apart. The next day, a 22-year-old Port Huron woman was attacked and killed while crossing someone’s back yard.

Two days later, the Detroit Free Press’s Rochelle Riley had a front-page column calling for a ban on all pit bulls. She wrote, “We don’t need to revisit both sides of this issue … the dogs are trained mostly to use their massive jaws to fight, to do damage.”

And she quoted Charlie Beckham, now responsible for animal control in the city, as saying, “They are almost like lethal weapons on the loose.”

Well, in many cases they are.

There’s also no Second Amendment saying anyone has the right to keep and breed pit bulls, even if they are a weapon. I have had dogs all my adult life, and never, ever want a pit bull.

But I don’t think totally banning them is practical. For one thing, they aren’t really a breed in the sense that a Beagle or my Australian Shepherd is a breed.

Pit Bull is now used as sort of a generic name for any muscular, powerful, square-jawed dog with bulldog and terrier characteristics. There are also a lot of pit bull mixes, which would mean a lot of problems determining just what is and isn’t a pit bull.

Plus, trying to ban all pit bulls would mean some families would be shattered, and other owners would just hide their dogs. One of the secretaries where I work is a tiny lady who lives in a bad neighborhood. She has an immense orange and white pit bull that makes her feel secure. I’ve met this dog, which is about as fierce as a pillow.

Workers at the humane society told me that a female pit bull named Addie, starving in a basement when they rescued her, is the single sweetest dog they’ve ever seen.

Yet there is no question that many are indeed highly dangerous. Many have been abused, bred for fighting, turned loose by owners who are irresponsible.

They are a major problem.

My suggestions would be these:

Get much tougher on the owners. Legally, make people pay the same penalty if their dog kills someone they would if they killed them themselves. We need much larger fines and significant jail time for anyone who neglects or abuses dogs, engages in dog fighting or has a dog that unjustifiably attacks someone.

Cities should also outlaw the breeding of dogs within the city limits without a license, and require the surrender of any dog not spayed or neutered.

This would cost some money – but the long-term social and economic benefits would be more than worth it. This problem was caused by man, not dogs.

Now, it is our job to fix it.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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