The Chesterfield City Council is moving ahead with plans to remove breed-specific language from its dangerous animal ordinance, clearing the way for pitbulls to be allowed in Chesterfield’s Eberwein Dog Park.
The first reading of the amendment passed 7-1, with opposition coming from Councilman Mike Casey and Mayor Bruce Geiger (a non-voting member of the council in most situations).
The ordinance currently labels any dog that is mixture of bull terrier to automatically be deemed “dangerous,” requiring the animal to be registered with the city and be leashed and muzzled when in public.
Chesterfield City Manager Michael Herring said the suggested change was reviewed by the city staff and the Chesterfield Police Department. The consensus was that experts in the field feel the breed is as safe as any other. Based on that recommendation, Herring said he put his own personal opposition to the idea aside.
“Having read the research and read the recommendation of the police department I have to acknowledge that there seems to be a body of evidence that seems to point in another direction,” he said.
Councilmembers Connie Fultz and Matt Segal also spoke in favor of the ordinance change. Segal said in his experience as an owner of two dogs of the same breed that looked identical, “you can’t judge a book by its cover.”
“One would cuddle up with anybody and was no big deal,” he said. “The other I wouldn’t bring within 50 yards of a dog park because she didn’t get along with other dogs. Unfortunately, as a responsible, owner, I had to put the dog down prematurely because of that. At some level, the onus needs to be put on the dog owner to be responsible.”
He added that while a pitbull may look intimidating, it can be as gentle as a “teacup Yorkie.” Like Herring, he also said that the research from veterinarians supports making the change.
Personal Experience Informs Opposition
An important side effect of the change in language is its impact on Chesterfield’s dog park. Essentially, it would allow pitbulls to enter the dog park since they would no longer have to be confined to a leash, which is what the ordinance requires of animals deemed dangerous.
The prospect troubled Geiger, who spoke from personal experience about what happens when a pitbull fights another animal.
“It’s not pretty to watch,” he said. “It is intense and it is virtually impossible to pull that dog off the other dog. I have great concerns about this.”
It was also a problem for Casey, who voted no against the first reading of the bill. Like Geiger, Casey said he felt that pitbulls were more dangerous than other canine breeds.
“It’s not a question of how or when, [a fight] will occur,” he said. “We are allowing a dangerous animal – an animal that was bred for fighting – into the dog park. It’s a bad idea."
Do you agree with the decision to change the ordinance governing dangerous animals? What has been your experience with pitbulls? Tell us in the comments!