Consensus

I was discussing the pit bull question a bit with Jeff today.  (I mention this because anything decent that may follow might have been completely stolen from him.)

Councilor Eddy has mentioned that 2% of city dogs are pit bulls, and that they cause 25% of the dog bites in the city.  It’s been estimated that there are 10,000 dogs in the city.  That would mean there are 200 pit bulls in the city.  Raise your hand if that sounds really low to you.  (A brief look at the WARL dog list on Petfinder today shows 17 pit bulls.  To put it another way, that would mean WARL is in possession of 10% of all the pit bulls in the city.)

And, of course, Councilor Eddy hasn’t told us how many dog bites actually occur in the city.  I’ve asked Councilor Haller, and she’s told me that she still has not received any dog bite statistics.  Now, the cynics among us might feel that Eddy’s stats don’t pass the smell test — if Haller, the chair of Public Safety, doesn’t have reliable figures, where is Eddy getting his?

We know that the ordinance won’t prevent dog bites on the owner’s property, because dogs won’t need to be muzzled.  We know that the ordinance won’t protect police from situations where they may enter a home with hostile dogs because — again — in a home, a dog doesn’t need to be leashed or muzzled.  We know that the dog officers get reports of 5-10 loose dogs a week, and that the vast majority of residents obey the leash law.

We know all this, and the councilors know this, and yet our sympathies go one way, and their votes go the other way, time and again.

I’m inclined to appeal to reason, and — while I am not a fan of canned testimony — I do like to give people tools to be able to appeal to reason.  And Jeff pointed out to me, as others have, that that’s just not how this Council works.

Here’s how things work:

A citizen complains about something.  In this case, a perceived threat from pit bulls.  A councilor latches onto it because it gives the government the opportunity to address an issue which isn’t really a problem, but which makes everyone feel good.

Those citizens who would be adversely affected speak up.  They believe in what my philosophy professors called good faith; that is, that they can contact their representatives in the government, that those representatives will listen to all constituents, weigh the facts, and vote accordingly.

Those citizens attend a meeting.  They give testimony.  They see those councilors they sent emails to, those councilors they spoke to before the meeting, and they hope against hope that their words will be listened to, that they will be shown respect.

The Council, of course, has already made up their mind, long before testimony.  The Council’s mind was made up when the item was first brought up, when it was obvious how this would play to all those people sitting at home on their couches.  You see, it’s the people on the couches they really listen to, not the people sitting right in front of them.

Those are the kinds of people who want a pit bull ban, though they’ll settle for the muzzle law.  And, unfortunately, those are the kind of people who vote in this city.

So we end up with 11-0 votes, or 10-1 votes, or 9-2 votes.  Occasionally a Councilor will throw the rational citizens a bone (no pun intended) and vote their way.  But, in this city, in this Council, collegiality is big.  And — in their dictionary — collegiality equals consensus.

We keep asking the wrong questions about the right issues.  We keep wondering why college students don’t stay here, we keep wondering why nothing goes right in the downtown, we pine for passenger flights out of the airport.  We know what the issues are, but we aren’t willing to have a conversation whose direction isn’t predetermined.

In the case of the pit bulls, we are bypassing the questions we need to be asking in exchange for a temporary feel-good measure.  We prefer to fool ourselves into thinking that this will prevent horrible situations.  Goodness knows we shouldn’t see how well this is working in other cities, or ask the WARL whether this will cause an uptick in pit bulls at an already-overtaxed shelter.  We only care about the now.

What if we decided to encourage instead of discourage?  What if we decided we wanted to encourage people to be responsible dog owners?  What if we decided to waive a lifetime’s worth of dog license fees for those dogs who are altered and have completed a program like Canine Good Citizen?  What if we decided to open a dog park, to encourage responsible dog owners to live in Worcester?  What if we worked with veterinarians to identify dog owners who might be the perfect fit for a pit bull in need of a home?

What if we looked at pit bulls not as a problem to be tackled but an opportunity to distinguish ourselves from other communities?  What if we decided that, instead of punishing behavior that’s already against the rules, we decided to make it a rule to incentivize good behavior?  What if we decided to be the community for dog owners in Massachusetts?

What if we decided to be informed and act accordingly?  What if we dared to act differently — by doing so thoughtfully and creatively?  How about we stop being hung up on how we compare to Providence, but instead concentrate on how we can become the best Worcester we can be?  Knee-jerk ordinances don’t get us there — let’s educate ourselves, listen to those in Animal Control and rescue agencies, and craft a set of animal control laws that combine common sense and creativity.  And then let’s make sure that Animal Control has the staffing to enforce what we enact, since there’s no point to having laws in place that we’re unwilling to adequately enforce.

10 thoughts on “Consensus

  1. Hannah says:

    Wonderful post, Nicole. Touches upon many issues. Still need time to digest what I’ve read.

  2. Jim May says:

    Pity the poor pit bull breed. The one I owned had the broadest vocabulary I ever witnessed in a dog. Pit bulls are smart, loyal, compact and fun.

    As a dog owner myself, I’ve made a point for the last couple years to inspect or ask for other owner’s dog licenses in the Elm Park area where I live. [If you think that is “rude”, I would only point out that dog’s names, breed, owners name, etc are listed on the City website as public information.]

    I have been keeping tabs on owner/breed as I get out there with my own dogs.

    I have noticed that many of the pit bulls(especially) in the Elm Park neighborhood are not licensed (i.e. no tags). I also see young men with pit bulls pretty casually letting the dogs “lead” them and I wonder all the time if that owner could control a situation if their dog got out of control.

    Outside of a the owner getting their dog a license, the only involvement the City has with that unlicensed dog is for a dog emergency. So how MIGHT the City ensure that owners take responsibility and register their dogs?

    Some folks–whether it’s lawlessness or poverty–don’t register and license their dogs.

    So unless we have a City Worker (a bicycle patrol officer perhaps?) or someone else out there checking for licenses we will see more of this illegal behavior.

    At the animal shelter in Norwich CT I learned this past April that 80 percent of dogs impounded there are pit bulls, and, of those, most were a) not registered and b) used for fighting.

    Everyone knows that pit bulls are praised by dogfighters and by drug dealers. It makes sense that most of THESE dogs would be unlicensed and therefore going under the radar. Unless that are “caught” by concerned citizens bold enough to inquire their owners when those dogs are out and about in the mean streets of Worcester. The reality is, it’s a pretty dangerous situation.

    When I taught school, it was well known that the parents of the good kids are the same ones who show up on parents night. It’s the bad kids that you are trying to reach out to.

    And it’s the same way here. When it comes to responsible dog owners, the good owners will make sure their dogs follow the rules. The bad owners will avoid the rules no matter how “tough” the City Council makes them. But it would be foolish to think that the lawbreakers will “play nice”.

    Sorry, but it is not the job of the City or what I ask of the City Council to make the City more “friendly” to dogs.

  3. Pam says:

    Nicole,
    Excellent blog! You should run for City Councilor!

    I think the rewarding responsible dog owners is an excellent idea.Someone also suggested in the comments of one of the pit bull articles of the T&G that those that do have a dog that attacks should be fined a stiff fee which has an additional penalty for everyday late. If not paid there should be a substantial punishment there after. A different approach to yours but I think in combination this could quell the attacks and reward those with well mannered dogs. This way we are not punishing anyone for something that they havent done and rewarding everyone that is responsible.

    I for one would love to not have to pay for licensing ever again with my wonderful CGC pit bull!

    See you on the the 10th.
    Pam

  4. Mike says:

    The other evening on Bell Hill I saw nearly 20 dogs that would be covered by the pit bull ordinance. Either the 200 figure is low or that neighborhood has a unique demographic.

  5. Jordan says:

    Awesome post… good analysis of not just this bad ordinance but using it to talk about how the City council does its business.

  6. clbergpowers says:

    Thanks Nicole for this awesome read. Great breakdown of our often reactionary, regressive City Council discussions, debates and decision-making. As I have said, letting people talk in front of the Council is only LISTENING (Yes, BIll Eddy, I’m talking to you) if you actually hear what they have to say. I’m glad the WARL is taking a stand here and not letting an early election year scare tactic rule the day. I think your PRO-active solutions are great ideas. You should send them to Kate Toomey, she’s asked for input on this (unlike most other Councilors, as far as I can tell).

  7. […] We oppose the City Council’s planned anti-pit bull ordinance, as does the Worcester Animal Rescue […]

  8. Bill says:

    Great blog.

    There is no way in hell there are only 200 pit bulls in the City of Worcester. In the Crystal Park/Pleasant Street area, there have to be that many.

    One of the biggest problems is that the majority of these dogs are never licensed to begin with. Maybe animal control should set-up a road block? All kiddin aside if you just checked some of these dogs and asked for their “papers”–there would be none.

    It would be like Arizona’s immigration bill. Wonder is the City Council would then try to pass an ordinance to ban doing business with Worcester, if we did that?

    Bill

  9. Bill Randell says:

    Just read Jim May’s comment about the unlicensed dogs at Elm Park. Same at Crystal and any other park. Especially love it when an unlicensed pit bull is tied up in front of a store while the owner goes inside.

    Enforce the laws like picking up unlicensed dogs, versus trying to create new ones.

    Bill

  10. Jennifer says:

    I sent the following email to EVERY Councillor and the mayor. I will be there at the meeting, and even though i’m not very eloquent (not even in email form) when i’m heated, I will do my best to protect my dogs.
    —–

    I’m writing in response to the pit bull ordinance that is to take effect in this city. I have just bought a home in this city, the city I was raised and have lived in for 25 years. I have never taken an interest in politics, but this time it has struck close to home.

    I am the owner of two ‘pit bulls’. One of which is a Staffordshire terrier mix (Atlas), the other is a pit bull terrier mix (Wiggles). The Staffordshire, I adopted from the Worcester animal Rescue league, the Pit bull, I adopted from the Pittie love rescue when I was fostering her for the organization. In both cases, we just fell in love with these loving, congenial, and obedient dogs… both of which came from troubled circumstances. Both dogs are registered, altered and are always leashed when they go out in public. We are responsible owners that have trained these dogs to act like dogs, not pit bulls. They sleep in our bed, sit on our couch, and are the whole reason I have love in my life. I have never had an issue with them, and they have never had an issue towards other dogs or humans- they have been raised with as much contact to other humans and animals to make them comfortable with new situations.

    As a pit bull owner, however, I know that bites do happen. I know Why bites happen. The pit bull is an incredibly loyal dog, with an amazing will to please their owner. Certain individuals have taken advantage of these traits; Traits that have been known and loved since the 1920’s and earlier. Back then, if you went and got a ‘dog’ for your family, most cases were that the dog was a pit bull type dog. The dog from the little rascals, which many people do not know, was a pit bull terrier. War hero dogs from WW2 were also pit bull terriers. The loyalty of these dogs makes them courageous and fantastic in many aspects of life. This loyalty has since been exploited by people who are looking to be ‘tough’ and show their toughness on the streets or in a fighting environment. I am heartbroken for these dogs. All these dogs know is that their owners are happy when they act in a certain way. They do not know that what they are doing is wrong because their owners are teaching them that it is good.

    The problem is not with the dogs, it is with the owners, and I’m sure you know that. I’m sure you also know that regulating a dog in the way that is proposed will not work- and has not worked in cities that have tried it (Boston, for example). The ordinance in these cities proves to be a burden to responsible owners, and a very large cost for the city.

    The ordinance states to muzzle a dog off your property. That is all well and good, I do not mind muzzles (I do mind basket muzzles, as they make the dog look fearsome, I prefer the cloth muzzles). The muzzle, however, is not going to protect a person where the bites happen, in someone’s home. The leash law in this city should automatically protect people against the random bites that happen out on the street- since almost all of those bites are due to dogs running around unleashed. If the dogs aren’t leashed, they certainly aren’t going to be muzzled. When the other bites happen, they happen on someone’s property to family or friends. Cops are being bitten, but they are being bitten when entering a drug dealers home, or other questionable homes. A muzzle won’t help in this case, since they can’t be required on the property.

    It is in these circumstances that I ask we examine the owners of these dogs… not the dogs themselves. The people who are the problem are not going to follow this ordinance. I, being a responsible owner, will follow it at much inconvenience. I ask that we try other measures before we inconvenience responsible owners. When pit bulls are seen being walked on the streets, Officers should ask for proof of registration for the dog. If there are none, the officer should dispense information on how to obtain registration and take the owners name and address down. If, within a month, the dog is not registered, it should then be confiscated. There should then be a period where the owner has to get the dog registered in order to receive the dog back into their possession.

    I believe that people do not register their dogs because of how inconvenient it is. If we were allowed to register our dogs online, the process would be easier and more people would do it. I live on a quiet street in a nice area of Worcester. There are 10 houses on my street, and 8 dogs. Out of those 8 dogs, only 3 are registered. My two dogs, and another pit bull (a very well behaved, friendly pit bull) that an older gentleman owns up the street. The other dogs that are not registered consist of a very large, aggressive great dane, a dog and people aggressive Scottish terrier, a dog aggressive mutt that lives in the same home, and a few lab type dogs that have shown not to be a problem so far.

    It was only two days ago that this Scottish terrier ran out of his house, across the street, and attacked my 70 pound pit bull. I had to place myself in between the Scotty and my dog and kick him about 6 feet away before he would stop. The only reason he stopped was his owner screaming from inside her house. My dog was very badly shaken up and I’ve started bringing a knife and spray bottle of hot pepper sauce for when we walk our dogs. All the while, the dog was biting my dog, and my dog did NOT retaliate. My dog has been bitten by other dogs on three different occasions and has never defended himself. The reason for this is his high pain tolerance and the training I have given him. He knows not to bite, and he knows not to be aggressive to other dogs under any circumstances.

    The great dane on my street is very very aggressive, and I fear for our safety, but his owner is responsible and keeps him harnessed at all times, which I have thanked him for.

    The lack of dog registration in this city means that any statistics that are come up with will be skewed. It has been reported that 2% of dogs in this city are pit bulls. How can that remotely be accurate? The shelter has 18 pit bulls in its possession at this moment… that is already 1% of pit bulls. Everywhere you go there are pit bulls being walked down the street, never mind the ones that are fenced in their yards or being crated in their homes. I beg that we re-examine these numbers. It has also been said that pit bulls are responsible for 20% of attacks in Worcester… what are the circumstances of these attacks? Are they in peoples homes? Are they when officers enter peoples homes? Are the dogs unleashed and running wild? Are the dogs altered?

    I read of a pit bull named Bruno that had attacked a boy on Aetna street in September, causing the boy to receive 100 stitches. They put a picture of the dog in the paper, but I wonder if anyone had looked at that picture. That dog is clearly unaltered, which is a huge problem with ANY dog. The surge of testosterone in these dogs causes major issues, just as it would in humans.

    I know this has been a long email, but there are so many things on my (and a lot of others) minds about this ordinance that revolves around our belief that people aren’t doing research or thinking about this problem logically. It seems as though we are following in the failed steps of other cities, when we should be coming up with a revolutionary way of dealing with these issues. We have so many great thinkers in this city; surely they can come up with a good idea on addressing the irresponsible ownership of dogs.

    Remember, Registration, altering, and training will save us, and our dogs. Make people be responsible for the PRIVALEGE of owning these animals and you will make people feel safe in our city. Please, don’t hate the breed; they are after all- just dogs. Hate the irresponsible and exploitative nature of our citizens.

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