PLYMOUTH -- The city has backed away from a proposed ban on pit bulls, tweaking an ordinance this week to instead give officials authority to take action against the owners of dogs that are found to be dangerous.
But critics say doing so takes the teeth out of a law that is needed to control the controversial canines.
Under the new ordinance that has yet to get final approval, dogs would have to maim or kill someone or another pet before owners could be ordered into district court to show why the dog shouldn't be killed. The owners of dogs found by a judge to simply be a danger without killing or injuring anyone might be ordered to buy liability insurance and have the animal neutered.
That, in essence, is what state law already states.
"I was born in this town in 1936. We've always had dogs. Love 'em, but banning them (pit bulls) is not a bad idea," said Eric Eklund as he walked his dog in Plymouth's downtown Kellogg Park.
The docile gray-faced mixed breed is named Julia Child. "I'm no expert, but I read the papers. The breed is involved in the most serious attacks."
Waterford and Melvindale are among the several cities nationwide to ban pit bulls, a loose term often applied to several breeds including American pit bull terriers and the American Staffordshire terrier.
The debate about the laws is as fierce as the dog's reputation. The dogs' defenders say pit bulls are maligned for problems caused by their upbringing.
Foes point to a string of killings by the powerful dogs and studies claiming they are responsible for more attacks than other dogs.
Many in Plymouth disagree.
"We have dangerous people, too," said Joyce Stockwell, 53, as she shopped downtown. "It's about responsibility. You have to teach a dog to have good manners, the same as a kid."
The issue stemmed from a neighborhood dispute after some people moved in with a red-nose pit bull. Neighbors responded with a petition to City Hall bearing 100 signatures.
Councilman Ron Loiselle said an outright ban is too tough to enforce for a city with no dog catcher or pound.
"Who is going to check, and who is going to make the determinations about which dogs are actually pit bulls and which aren't?" Loiselle said. "That's a huge debate. It was just unenforceable."