March 13 2013 12:00 AM

Mayor says the city has a vicious dog problem, others say it’s entirely an enforcement and ownership problem

From left: City Council President Carol Wood and Jody Washington, chair of the Council\'s public safety committee listen to public comments about a proposed \"vicious dog\" ordinance on Tuesday.

Tuesday, March 5 — The chairwoman of a City Council committee tasked with drafting a “vicious dog” ordinance said today she’s not interested in pursuing regulations that would target specific breeds — particularly pit bulls.

Councilwoman Jody Washington — whose Public Safety Committee is taking up the legislation after Mayor Virg Bernero recently called on the Council to do something to address the problem — said the committee was “nowhere near” drafting an ordinance and that she isn’t pursuing “breed specific” language. The committee is in a “fact finding” period, she said.

The committee started looking into a possible “vicious dog” ordinance as Bernero has become increasingly vocal about the need to regulate “vicious dogs.” He said there are people in Lansing “living in fear” of aggressive dogs running loose in their neighborhoods.

Bernero also believes the problem is specific to pit bulls. He said pit bulls are most responsible for bites and attacks in the city. He said the “vast majority” of incidents where Lansing police officers have had to shoot aggressive dogs in neighborhoods have involved pit bulls.

Jamie McAloon-Lampman, director of Ingham County Animal Control, is opposed to a breed-specific ordinance. She said there is an obvious reason pit bulls are the main culprits — and it’s not because they’re naturally more aggressive.

“You tend to see more pit bull mixes because they’re the highest percentage of dogs in Lansing,” she said, adding that over 60 percent of Lansing’s dogs are pit bulls or pit bull mixes. “So, of course, they’re going to statistically show up more, in whatever statistic you look at, including bites and complaints.”

The problem with dog-specific ordinances, McAloon-Lampman said, is that they punish responsible owners who are not easily going to give up their dogs.

“If they start threatening banning breeds, that’s where I draw the line,” said Steve Bell, who has been rescuing and raising pit bulls for 15 years. “I will sell my house, move out of Lansing and never come back."

For Bell, who has a reputation for rescuing and raising problem canines, said the city should focus on prosecuting bad dog owners, not the dogs themselves.

Bad owners breed bad dogs — period,” he said.

But some places that ban specific breeds have yielded positive results.

Bernero’s hometown of Waterford, Mich. adopted a no-pit-bull policy in 1990. Township Supervisor Gary Walls said the ordinance has been effective in reducing the number of attacks and bites.

The problem isn’t the law — it’s the lack of resources for enforcement, McAloon-Lampman said. The Animal Control budget has been cut so drastically that only two officers are on duty during a shift — for the entire county. She said there’s simply not enough manpower to enforce the county laws, which Bernero has acknowledged as part of the problem.

Bell and McAloon-Lampman say solving the problem is about enforcing rules that are already on the books.

City Council President Carol Wood said there is already a leash law in the city, for which a violation is a misdemeanor with a $500 fine and/or up to 90 days in jail. Violating county dog laws is also a misdemeanor with the same penalties as the city. The county can find a dog owner in violation of the law if the dog gets loose, bites or attacks, destroys property or shows “vicious” and aggressive habits toward people in public.