Mayor Drops Ban On Pit Bulls, Adds Restrictions On New Breeds, Owners

Lakewood’s door is no longer barred to pit bulls. But for how long, and whether the door will actually open, remains in question.

Mayor Mike Summers announced that “The breed ban effectively ends today because I do not see the merits of enforcing a feature we are likely to eliminate in the near future,” in a January 2 e-mail to Lakewood City Council.

Four days earlier, Summers and three members of council proposed a revision to Lakewood’s animal control ordinances. The proposal would end the city’s outright ban on pit bulls—but would target pit bulls and some other dogs with significant new breed-specific restrictions.

At the January 2 city council meeting, the proposal met with a negative reception from several members of the public, as well as from within council. The evening ended with council and Mayor Summers effectively declaring the proposal only “a starting point” for further discussion, although opinions differed sharply on whether it was a good or poor starting point. City Council voted 6-1 to refer the proposal to the city’s public safety committee, which will examine it at a meeting yet to be announced.

In the meantime, Lakewood’s official position toward pit bulls is now muddied.

Mayor Summers’s message that “The breed ban effectively ends today” is on its face a departure from comments as recent as last September, asserting that the ban maintained public safety.

Yet the City of Lakewood continues to defend its eviction of “Charlie,” a pit bull owned by resident Jennifer Scott, against a court challenge. Summers’s e-mail to council was not a formal directive to any employees tasked with enforcing the ban, either, which remains on the city’s books for now.

Summers also made his announcement on the basis that Lakewood’s ban is “a feature we are likely to eliminate in the near future,” but a consensus around how to do that proved elusive at last Tuesday’s meeting.

Two new members of council, Meghan George and Tristan Rader, said that the introduction of Summers’s proposal without any prior warning raised questions of trust. Both George and Rader advocated replacing breed-specific legislation (BSL) entirely, during their campaigns, and had made it known to colleagues that they were preparing alternatives. Citing Ward 2 council member Sam O’Leary’s signature of the letter which proposed Summers’s breed-specific replacement ordinance, both George and Rader voted against O’Leary’s re-election as president of city council. (Other members voted for.)

O’Leary himself, however, said later in the meeting that “I have always opposed BSL… that position, as far as I’m concerned, remains unchanged.” O’Leary said that he signed the letter to register support for discussing alternatives, rather than for the specific alternative it proposed.

Ward 4 council member Dan O’Malley also said that he believes BSL is not workable “in any way that respects sound science.”

The rest of council was largely noncommittal about Summers’s proposal, though At-large council member Tom Bullock and Ward 3 council member John Litten both signed the letter along with O’Leary and Summers. Bullock also implied that if Lakewood’s dog community rejects that proposal, the result would be resumption of the existing breed-specific ban. At deadline, the mayor’s office had not replied to a question about whether a suspension of the ban could be conditional upon enacting new measures.

The significance of the measures proposed by Summers is thus, all things considered, difficult to determine. Members of the public were extremely critical of its breed-specific muzzle and confinement requirements for pit bulls, cane corsos and American bull dogs, as well as its requirement that all dogs and cats be spayed or neutered within four months of birth.

For Lakewood’s mayor and city council, however, the core argument may remain the targeting of pit bulls and other specific types. Mayor Summers defended his proposal to replace a breed specific ban with breed specific restrictions as the product of lengthy consideration, leaving his openness to end BSL itself up for question.

Council member Meghan George potentially spoke for a majority of city council, however, in saying, “Unfortunately, what is being presented here is still breed specific legislation. …I cannot in good conscience proceed with allowing this proposed ordinance to go further.”

Lakewood resident Matt Kuhns is a freelance graphic designer, and occasional author.

Matt Kuhns

Lakewood resident Matt Kuhns is a freelance graphic designer, and occasional author.

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Volume 14, Issue 1, Posted 4:06 PM, 01.09.2018