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Elgin councilman says pit bull laws inevitable
By Harry Hitzeman | Daily Herald Staff

John Prigge

 

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Published: 3/16/2010 12:39 PM | Updated: 3/16/2010 12:44 PM

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It's only a matter of time before Elgin leaders reconsider a package of laws that will require pit bull owners to register and muzzle their dogs, a city council member believes.

John Prigge, an Elgin councilman who pushed for a grandfathered pit bull ban but settled for a batch of laws with stiffer penalties for all dogs that attack humans and other pets, predicted a serious incident would occur this year.

And that, Prigge told the South West Area Neighbors group Monday night, would give himself and three other council members reason to revisit and pass pit bull-only laws.

"I do believe something's going to happen," Prigge said. "I think it's inevitable. I just pray to God it's not a tragedy."

In late February, the council voted 4-3 to advance a measure that imposed a new set of rules on pit bulls, automatically declaring them "dangerous" dogs.

The designation would trigger a set of pit bull-only laws, including requiring owners to: register their dogs at city hall; muzzle their pit bulls when they are walked or let free in a backyard that doesn't have a six-foot tall fence; and obtain $500,000 of liability insurance.

Violators would faces fines of $1,000.

But last week, after a flurry of protests, council members voted 7-0 on a softer set of laws that did not automatically classify pit bulls as dangerous.

Rather, if a dog - no matter what its breed - attacked another pet or human, it could be deemed dangerous and be required to register at city hall and wear a muzzle when outside. In addition, the dog's owner would need $100,000 of liability insurance.

However, if there was another serious incident or if Elgin police had to shoot a pit bull while executing a search warrant, Prigge pledged to revisit the stiffer set of laws.

"In this particular situation, we felt this was the right thing to do," Prigge said. "We need to have another occurrence to happen - hopefully it's not a tragedy - and then there's no turning back."

SWAN residents said neighborhood safety is still a concern.

Resident Mike Curtin said he was chased twice by loose dogs - one of them a pit bull - last week while on a run.

Other residents, who were angry that the council backed off the pit bull specific laws, said they fear retaliation if they report irresponsible pit bull owners.

SWAN President Charlene Sligting said the city needs to not only consider hiring another animal control officer - which would double the police department's total to two - but also more code enforcement officers who can blow the whistle on dangerous dogs.

"The problem with our neighborhood is we have a lot of rental properties," said Sligting, who noted renters can buy insurance and later cancel it to evade the city's laws. "It needs to be a bigger umbrella."

Prigge urged residents to call police at (847) 289-2700 if they see a dog running free or call 911 if the danger is immediate.