Saginaw, MI: A look at the data used by council to justify BSL

Saginaw city council members have wanted BSL for quite a while. But, quite unlike other municipalities, where councilmembers typically point to a high-profile dog bite as proof that they need breed-based restrictions, Saginaw has been exceptionally concerned with justifying the selections for the “dangerous breed” list. Several councilmembers have insisted that the list is generated from credible studies and scientific sources.

Since StopBSL knows of no such “dangerous breed” list among the credible research that has been done, we felt some investigation of Saginaw’s claim was in order.

In January 2011, Saginaw produced a list of ten “dangerous” breeds. Council openly admitted to using the infamous Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report to draw up the list—despite the CDC report’s explicit warning that their data should not be used for the purpose of constructing legislation and could not be used to determine breeds’ relative “danger.” Saginaw council ultimately sent this proposal back for revision.

In April 2011, a new proposal came out. The new “dangerous breed” list contained the following breeds: Pit bull, Rottweiler, German Shepherd, Bull Mastiff (Presna [sic] Canario), and Alaskan Malamute (the last has been recently stricken from list). Several council members asserted that the source(s) used to create the list were “credible” and “scientific,” but declined to give specifics.

Saginaw’s list contained some telling peculiarities, such as a unique grouping and an unusual misspelling. Saginaw’s “dangerous breed” list can be easily matched to the incredibly flawed numbers and biased essay self-published by newspaper owner Merritt Clifton (click the link to see why Merritt Clifton’s essay is junk science).

However, the ordinance itself says the following about the source of this top five list (emphasis mine):

(C) Any dog of a breed that appears consistently in the top five (5) of the breeds on credible, analytical listings of “Most Dangerous Dogs” as verified and supplemented by local data and records for Saginaw County.

City of Saginaw therefore implies that Merritt Clifton’s personally gathered numbers are “credible” and “analytical.” Since the city rejected the CDC data in favor of Clifton’s junk, the further implication is that the city considers Clifton to be more credible and analytical than the CDC.

Significantly, the second part of the ordinance excerpt states that the city will use Saginaw County bite records to verify the list. Consequently, I requested bite records from Saginaw County. The director of the animal care center confirmed that county bite records were indeed supplied to the city of Saginaw. The director also noted that the county does not usually track bites by breed, and that the data was compiled at the request of the city.

You may view the bite records I received from Saginaw County here. Overlooking some rather significant flaws in the data and ignoring the “mixed breed” and “unknown” categories, the top five biters in Saginaw County in 2009 and 2010 were “pit bulls” (whatever that means), Labs, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, and Chows. If we move “pit bull” into the mixed breed category where it more properly belongs, to produce only a list of actual breeds, the top five biting breeds now includes Beagles.

The city ordinance claims to use local data as justification—but it clearly does not. If it did, Labradors and Chows would be included in the top five. The local dog bite data neither explains nor justifies the selection of Bullmastiff and Presa Canario; these two breeds have very few bites attributed to either. The city would ostensibly prevent more bites by restricting Boxers, Poodles, or Chihuahuas, to name a few.

Of course, the entire process of tallying bites by breed and establishing relative risk is fraught with inaccuracies and missing data. We don’t know the populations of each breed or group (needed for computing relative “danger”); we don’t know whether the breed identifications are accurate; mixed breed dogs pose a particular difficulty; and so on. The county dog bite data has not been gathered any more accurately and cannot be used differently than the Clifton report. However, whether we like it or not, the city of Saginaw has decided to use (misuse) data to justify their ordinance—so the question arises: why did they choose Clifton’s data, rather than the more relevant county bite data, or the somewhat more credible CDC data?

While I was seeking data from the county, the city of Saginaw quietly revised the top five list. Someone separated Presa Canario and Bullmastiff into two separate breeds, and dropped Alaskan Malamute so as to keep the list to five breeds. The current top five list now reads: pit bull (undefined), Rottweiler, Presa Canario, Bullmastiff, and German Shepherd. It should be noted that the ordinance likewise restricts any dogs that a reasonable person might consider a mixed-breed of one of the aforementioned.

A slightly separate but no less alarming component of the ordinance provides for an annual review and possible revision of the restricted breed list. The ordinance does not make clear exactly who will be doing the review, what data will be used, and whether the process will be open to public input. Considering that those who dare to question the ordinance have been ignored to date (or worse, mocked and insulted), and that the council’s methods and processes surrounding the proposed ordinance have not been very transparent or honest, it certainly seems reasonable that any future review by council will follow in the same vein.

The breed-specific ordinance has passed a first vote and goes for a final vote on June 20. More information:


2 responses to “Saginaw, MI: A look at the data used by council to justify BSL

  1. buckleymurphy

    Thank you so much for a well-written and considerate approach to the Saginaw debacle. It is clear the council has been unwilling to review hard facts in framing this ordinance and are reacting to the problem of irresponsible (or undesirable) people owning specific breeds by targeting the dogs. The fact they are ignoring their own data and statistics proves that – of course we know that only responsible families own Labs … sigh.
    They also were unwilling to consider the cost of enforcement of this ordinance in their community, setting themselves up for a very expensive experience.

  2. Sunday Miles

    I have spoke to the Council on 2 occassions and will tonight again appeal to them that it would better serve their Community to simply not target Specific Breeds of dogs but rather broaden their “Proposal” to allow improper licenseing, breeding or illigal practices with any animal to be cause for ticket or fine!

    The law abiding citizens in the City of Saginaw are the ones who will suffer, they are the ones who abide by the laws… they are not the ones out there allowing their dogs to roam at will, destroy property or terriorize neighborhoods or being used in dog fighting circles!

    The unfortunate animals involved in this type of activity are owned by the type of people already ignoring the law. Why on earth would the Council expect them to obey the new ordinance???

    Why does the Saginaw City Council insist on punishing Specific Breeds instead of the Deeds that can be caused by all?