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Elgin takes heat off pit bulls, revises dog law
By Harry Hitzeman | Daily Herald Staff

Pit bull owner Michele Bachi raises her protest signs against the breed specific legislation targeting pit bulls at the City Council meeting about pit bull laws on Wednesday at The Centre in Elgin.

 

Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

Katherine Minard of Elgin waits for the City Council meeting to begin on Wednesday at The Centre in Elgin.

 

Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

Sharee Dykstra flashes a big smile to Michele Bachi, both pit bull owners in Elgin, after the ordinance amending Title 7 of the Elgin Municipal Code, 1976, is announced, dropping the breed specification targeting pit bulls.

 

Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

Dawn Garcia and husband, Juan, applaud the ordinance amending Title 7 of the Elgin Municipal Code, 1976, which took out the breed specifications targeting pit bulls at the City Council meeting on Wednesday.

 

Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

Janet Larsen of Elgin, holding a stuffed pit bull dog prop which looks similar to her own pit bull named Oreo, leaves the City Council meeting happy after the breed specific legislation targeting pit bulls was amended on Wednesday.

 

Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

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Published: 3/11/2010 12:00 AM

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In the weeks and months leading up to Elgin's pit bull vote, dog owners pleaded with city council members to "punish the deed, not the breed."

Now, the city plans to do just that.

Wednesday night, Elgin leaders backed off a batch of new laws aimed specifically at pit bulls, much to the delight of about 275 people who erupted in cheers.

The old proposal automatically declared all pit bulls "dangerous," a distinction that triggered a set of regulations punishable by fines of $1,000.

Some of them were that the dog be muzzled when taken out of the home, a 6-foot-tall fence be in place if the dog was to run free, the owner obtain $100,000 in liability insurance, a 6-foot-long leash was mandated when walked by a person who had to be at least 18, and owners pay $50 to register their dogs at city hall for three years.

Now, pit bulls will not automatically be declared "dangerous."

Under the new law, any dog that bites or attacks another animal or human can then be deemed dangerous, triggering the new set of laws for the owner. The breed of dog does not matter.

Councilman John Prigge, who initially pushed for a grandfathered pit bull ban, said if there is another bad pit bull attack, he will renew his push for pit bull-only laws.

"I will be watching. My colleagues will be watching. I will be vigilant. They will be vigilant," Prigge said. "I haven't abandoned my belief that public safety in our neighborhoods is an imperative city council goal."

Two weeks ago, Prigge, Mayor Ed Schock and council members Robert Gilliam and Mike Warren supported an even more stringent set of pit bull laws.

Schock said he never supported an outright ban and credited Prigge for stepping back. The mayor also commended audience members for being civil and Elgin residents for giving their input throughout the process, no matter what side they supported.

"Democracy works," Schock said, adding that input helped "the council open its ears."

Over the last year, people shared horror stories of pit bull attacks in Elgin, but quantifying the extent of pit bull problem proved difficult.

The Elgin Police Department does not track which types of breeds are responsible for attacks and bite cases. But police respond, on average, to one call every three days.

In 2007, there were 142 reported dog bites in Elgin, followed by 120 in 2008.

The tally dropped to 113 in 2009, and there have been nine so far this year, according to data provided in response to a Freedom of Information Act Request.

Danger: Restrictions can apply if any dog attacks or bites