Last week, Saginaw MI Chief Inspector John Stemple called the city's new breed specific ordinance "very effective."
"It was the government reacting ot a problem, and if you look at the numbers, it's been very effective," Stemple told mlive.
The ordinance, passed in June of 2011, required residents to register dogs whos breeds were deemed "dangerous" and post signs about a dog being on the premises and to keep their animals either leashed or within a 4 foot high fenced in area. The targeted breeds included 9 different breeds of dogs including pit bulls presa canario, bull mastiffs, Rottweilers and German Shepherds.
The law was passed after a series of incidents
According to Stemple, signs and tethering rules have made people safer. In 2009 there were 24 dog bites in the city. In 2011: 9. That seems impressive.
But have the results really been because of the ordinance? Or something else?
Before I dive deeper into the numbers, I want to give you a feel for the community of Saginaw, MI.
Saginaw, MI as of 2010 had a population of 51,508 - however, it used to be quite a bit bigger of a city. The city has lost 16.7% of its residents since 2000, and an amazing 30.5% of it's population since 1990.
The decline in population has created many other problems. By 2009, 56.6% of the city lived below the poverty line. Just under 25% lived with income less than 50% of the poverty line -- both well more triple the national averages. The city has a 15% unemployment rate.
With the poverty ha seen increased crime, in 1999, Saginaw had a crime index of 716 -- but by the end of 2008 this had grown to 1067. The national average is 319.
Because of the decreases in population, and increased poverty, the city finds itself very short of money. The annual budget has continued to decrease over time and now is not only supporting an infastructure built for nearly double the current population, but also suffering because nearly 30% of the total budget is being used to pay off past pensions.
I confess that I've never been to Saginaw, but I have been to similar places, and when poverty gets this high, and city budgets get this low, there is a significant break down in social structure and order -- which helps lead to the higher crime indices. There just isn't enough money to provide the city services the city should have.And while I can't seem to find the specific budget line items, I feel pretty safe in assuming that responding to loose animal complaints probably wasn't a high priority for Saginaw.
It is also pretty consistent that stray/loose animal issues, and aggressive dog issues, are fairly consistent with larger societal issues beyond just loose/dangerous dogs. They are usually a symptom ofa bigger problem.
So in March of 2009, it wouldn't be terribly surprising the city was in disarray. And at that point, a woman and a man were severely attacked by three free-roaming dogs in the community. This was only a few months after another incident in which two free-roaming dogs dug under a fence at a children's zoo and killed several farm animals.
It was at this time that the city began (rightfully) to look at animal control laws. After more than a year of discussion, the new law passed in June, 2011.
While I confess that I don't have a huge problem with the restrictions for the dog owners (a $20 licensing fee, plus containment are very good laws), the laws should be in place for ALL dog owners.
But that said, has the ordinance itself been effective? At least the way Inspector Stemple claims?
Last week, in a separate story, mLive also posted the total numbers for 2009, 2010 and 2011 -- and YTD 2012. Here are a few of the raw numbers, some percentages that I've calculated, and then some thoughts:
Total Animal calls:
2010: 1,005 (-15%)
2011: 1,281 (+27%)
Jan-Aug 2012: 554 (831 for the year if all are averaged)
2010: 433 (-20%)
2011: 592 (+37%)
Jan-Aug 2012: 242 (363)
2010: 11 (-54%)
2011: 9 (-18%)
2012: 3 (5)
What is interesting about the numbers is that in 2010, the city saw significant decreases in incidents across the board -- 15% fewer calls, 20% fewer vicious dog calls and 54% fewer bites. While some of the "enforcement measures" went up in 2011 after the passing of the ordinance, bites continued to drop for 2011 and it appears the trend will continue in 2012.
First of all, this is great. I'm glad to see the bite numbers are dropping. People need to feel safe in their neighborhoods. However, the reduction in bites appears to have not be even correlated to the animal control ordinance.
While the ordinance was passed in mid 2011, the biggest reduction in bites came from 2009 to 2010 -- after the incident that sparked the discussion, but before the law was passed. I know this, a law passed in 2011 cannot be credited for a major reduction in dog bites that occurred the year prior. So something else led to the 54% decrease in bites in 2010. This likely had something to do with increased awareness of the impact free-roaming dogs can have in a community, as well as increased activity from local authorities in responding to complaints.
Then, the trend continued (to a lesser extent) in 2011 and 2012. However, the law cannot be attributed to the number of bites going from 24 to 9 in 2 years. At it's best, it can only be responsible for the drop from 11 to 9 in 2011. Again, the biggest dip happened before the law was passed.
And for what it's wroth, residents still aren't terribly happy with the law, as only 12% of the readers responded that dog breeds are dangerous, regardless of who owns them, while 59% say owners are responsible for their animal's behavior and 29% think the ordinance should apply to all dog owners, regardless of breed.
It's no surprise that the authorities in Saginaw are wanting to take credit for the law being a success. The law was very controversial at the time (still is) and they no doubt want to show it works. However, I'm disappointed that the media let them get by with it, and didn't ask the simple question -- what did you do differently in 2010 that accounted for the real reduction in dog bites? Because it wasn't because of the law.