Michigan Citizens Urge Policymakers to Protect Dog Owners’ Property Rights by Banning Dog Breed Discrimination

Oreo Kyllonen (with his best kid buddy) was a victim of BSL.

Oreo Kyllonen (with his best kid buddy) was a victim of BSL.

Make Michigan Next, a coalition of advocates, citizens and animal welfare organizations, supported by more than 1,000 of the state’s voters, will host a rally on the East steps of the State Capitol in Lansing to bring attention to discrimination against dog owners and the need to eliminate all public policy that discriminates against particular dog breeds.

Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) or breed discrimination refers to any law that bans or restricts certain types of dogs based on their appearance. It does not take into account a dog’s actual behavior nor do these laws consider the environment in which a dog lives. Studies have shown that dog owner (mis)management is frequently the cause of dog bites. Dogs that are not properly socialized or trained and that are often confined or chained in an outdoor area are often implicated in dog bites. These are often the events that trigger breed-specific bans at the municipal level.

“Dogs have no control over their environment, but their owners do,” said Courtney Protz-Sanders, a Make Michigan Next coalition member. “This rally is about everyone’s right to own dogs and the need to stop discrimination based on appearance. Right now, because we have no state law to protect us, any breed of dog can be banned from visiting or living in any township, city or county in Michigan.”

The rally will begin at 9 a.m. when more than 40 animal-friendly vendors set up booths across the capitol lawn in Lansing. At 11 a.m., a human chain will form at the east steps, symbolizing voters’ unity against breed discrimination. At noon, speakers will address the rally crowd.

So far, 19 states have passed a statewide ban on breed discrimination. Participants in today’s rally urge our state’s elected officials to “Make Michigan Next.” MMN and its partners are urging Michigan residents to reach out to their legislators to express their support of a state ban on BSL and to sign an online petition (www.makemichigannext.org).

“It’s time to bring Michigan law into the modern era. There is no place for discrimination in our society,” Protz-Sanders said. “We are the voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. They don’t vote, but we do.” A national survey reveals that 84 percent of citizens believe that local, state and federal governments should not infringe on a person’s right to own whatever breed of dog they choose. Michigan’s voters agree.

“We have communities in our state where German shepherds are banned, where rottweilers are banned, where bulldogs and mastiffs are banned,” said Terry Hodskins, a Make Michigan Next coalition member. “This is a violation of our right to own the dog of our choice. And every dog lover should be concerned about this because their breed could be next. More than 35 breeds face discrimination of some kind in Michigan and that number continues to grow.”

A large amount of organizations support making BSL a historical relic including: The American Bar Association, U.S. Center for Disease Control, American Veterinary Medical Association, National Canine Research Council, American Humane Association, American Kennel Club, ASPCA, Best Friends Animal Society, the Obama Administration and more.

BSL does not work…

• BSL neither improves public safety nor does it prevent dog bites

• BSL ignores the plight of victims and potential victims of non-targeted breeds

• BSL is costly

• BSL requires each and every dog to be identified as a breed — something that has proven impossible to do accurately and objectively

• BSL makes targeted breeds more desirable to irresponsible and criminal owners

• BSL does nothing to make irresponsible dog owners accountable

• BSL punishes responsible dog owners

• Not a single canine welfare organization in the U.S. supports BSL

About Make Michigan Next

Formed in 2014 by more than a dozen animal welfare organizations, Make Michigan Next’s mission is twofold:

• To introduce and enact a statewide ban on breed discrimination legislation

• To replace existing discrimination laws with responsible pet ownership laws

Ending breed discrimination in the state of Michigan is an important step forward for Michigan pet owners and their pets. Make Michigan Next is a campaign to end BSL across our state. Backed by a coalition of animal welfare organizations, Make Michigan Next will continue to collaborate with lawmakers to draft legislation that will protect the rights of pet owners and prohibit cities, townships and counties from establishing breed discrimination laws.

Here are some heartbreaking stories on how BSL impacts owners and their pets:

Victim: Marilena Gahman

Waterford, Michigan

I live in Waterford with my two dogs. In June 2014, Officer Knapp came by and gave me a citation for owning possible pit bulls, which I understand is an infraction of a township ordinance. He suggested I contact you after I call the court, which I did this morning. I need to make an appearance before the 23rd. I have just been discharged from the hospital and cannot drive or leave the house for a while, but my daughter-in-law is flying in this weekend, so I’ll come early next week.

Marilena

About my dogs, I included a picture. I confess that when people ask about their breed, I let them think what they want. I am an old woman living alone in a less than safe neighborhood. When I walk them (I use a harness), however, people stop, make fun of me because I am small and they are not, and then they pet them without any incident. Both dogs love people of any size and will go home with anyone. For their protection, I have put up a tall privacy fence. Fortunately, I have a large lot and they get plenty of exercise chasing squirrels. Naya, the darker dog, is a rescue from “Last Day Dog Rescue.” She is from a kennel up north. Her mother was a full boxer, father unknown. She was probably used for breeding. She had just given birth to 10 puppies. Second Chance, I found in the neighborhood. He did not show signs of abuse and I tried my best to find his owner by calling shelters, veterinarians, asking the mail person, asking neighbors, but all without success. I eventually took him to the Michigan Humane Society where he was neutered and received all his shots. Both dogs are licensed. The veterinarian was not sure what breed he would fit in, but felt he had the look of an English mastiff. I would appreciate any help/suggestions in this matter. These dogs are my family. They are gentle and very attached to me and to each other. If I beat this cancer, I don’t want to be alone.

Victim: Kuretich Family

Center Line, Michigan

I had a dog. I had him since he was a puppy. “MURPHY” WAS THE BEST DOG EVER! We lived in Shelby Township. We wanted to move closer to family, so we bought a house in Center Line. I didn’t know any of the ordinances. We moved in and soon learned that the neighbor behind us doesn’t like dogs and HATES pit bulls. Murphy was so well behaved. He would do nothing, but bake in the sun, go to the bathroom or chase the squirrels in our fenced yard. I had never received any kind of ticket in my life until I moved to Center Line.

Kuretich-family

My first ticket was for “dog at large running in yard.” MY OWN YARD. I thought this was ridiculous. Murphy wouldn’t hurt anyone. One day, my neighbor saw Murphy outside and he went to the fence, which startled my dog. The neighbor jabbed his pitchfork at my dog and my dog started barking. So, my first ticket was for that, then I got a packet from the city telling me what to do in order to keep Murphy. I had to have him microchipped and a huge list to follow. I had to build a dog cage with restrictions on how it had to look. I had to walk my dog on a four-foot leash with a muzzle on, in my own backyard that was fenced in! I decided to be neighborly and talk to the guy to see if we could make amends. He agreed that my dog could be hooked on a long leash that doesn’t go near the fence. The first time I did that he called the police. They came out and warned me. Then, my dad let Murphy out in the pouring rain to go potty. I told him he couldn’t do that and just as we got Murphy inside, the police came to our door. The officer said they didn’t see it happen, so they wouldn’t issue the ticket, but my neighbor signed it, so I got the ticket anyway. Long story short, I received multiple tickets. I spent a lot of money. I had just about every officer on the force to my house at one time or another. It was a barrage of constant harassment. I had the lieutenant come to my house to inspect things. I was told by the police to get a privacy fence, so I did. After that, the police told me I could let my dog run in our yard, but after the neighbor called again to complain, I had to muzzle Murphy when he would spend time in our yard – a senior dog who hadn’t done anything wrong. The police said that even though I installed a six-foot privacy fence, at their instruction, “there is still a chance he could get over the fence.” My dog at that point was around 9 years old. He had no interest and no ability to climb or hop the fence. My last ticket was issued in 2012. I went to court December 2012. The city attorney made the determination that my neighbor was harassing us and “being a nuisance.” In May 2014, Murphy turned 11 years old. We had lived in Center Line for six years and since the first ticket, we have wanted to move out of the city. Shortly after Murphy turned 11, he started having seizures. We found out he had a tumor in his brain and his heart wasn’t pumping right. We had to make the heart-wrenching decision to put him down. I haven’t had issues for almost a year with the police or neighbor. I would love to get another pit bull, but living in this city, no. I wouldn’t put another dog through all that. My opinion of Center Line is forever set in mind that it is a nightmare place to live, discriminating against honest families who haven’t bothered anyone.

VICTIM: Kyllonen Family

Waterford, Michigan

I am a mother. I have two children, a 5-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter, with one on the way. My family was devastated when I was served with a misdemeanor ticket by Waterford Township for a pit bull violation and was basically told if I did not get rid of my dog, I would be forced to have him killed. I did not like what I heard. Our family dog “Oreo” was not going to leave my home. He has never caused any mischief in my neighborhood and he has never been neglected in any sort of way.

So needless to say, we hired a lawyer, which all-in-all broke our bank account completely. We lived without electricity at times because we had to spend vast amounts of money on court and attorney fees. The end result of our fight to keep our family dog was that we got to keep him, but we know that many, many victims of breed discrimination are not so lucky. I was guilty until I proved my own innocence at my own expense. The ordeal set my family back financially and we are still struggling to recover. Our country is supposed to protect the innocent and the burden of proof is supposed to fall on the accuser, but not in our case. No one should face was our family went through to keep our family together.

Victim: Backus Family

Waterford, Michigan

We are a very close family, including our dog “Georgia.” We recently had our dear Georgia taken from us. Our neighbor was walking her dog and stopped in our yard to allow her dog to go to the bathroom. Georgia was in the house, barking in the window so the neighbor called the police, saying that we have a pit bull. Georgia has never bitten anyone and wasn’t even outside. The police came and gave my husband a misdemeanor ticket for a pit bull violation because we live in Waterford Township, which has a discrimination law and doesn’t allow them. We have paperwork that shows Georgia’s yearly licenses and vaccination records, but my husband didn’t have them that day because they were still in my purse from a recent camping trip that we had all gone on together.

Backus

We tried to show the paperwork to the court, but it didn’t want to see them until our court hearing. We were told by the courts that Georgia had to be removed from our home within 24 hours. We sent Georgia to stay with my oldest daughter at a friend’s home. Over the next three weeks, Georgia didn’t eat, drink or play and lost 10 lbs. My youngest daughter has been incredibly upset and acting out with anger at losing her best friend. My husband and I haven’t slept for weeks. We even had a DNA test done to prove that Georgia is a bulldog, but the courts want to see photos of what she looks like, as if her appearance has anything to do with her behavior. She’s a wonderful family dog who has never been a problem, a nuisance or anything else except for a loyal, loving, devoted family member.

My family needs our dog back. My dog desperately needs her family back. She is suffering and we are all heartbroken.

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