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After Diggy the dog, Waterford Twp. tweaks pit bull ban

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Months after controversy surrounding authorities’ treatment of an adopted dog whose smile sparked waves online, Waterford Township officials have tweaked its animal ordinance that bans pit bulls.

The prohibition doesn’t change, but amendments approved Monday night offer more clarity and “make it easier for the dog owners and the township” when confusion about a breed arises, Trustee Anthony Bartolotta said.

The issue gained traction after Diggy the dog was adopted this year by township musician Dan Tillery. In June, the eager new owner posted a photo of the pair that went viral and generated national attention.

Some believe the pooch appeared to be at least part pit bull, a breed a 1990 township law bans. After complaints that he violated the ordinance, police cited Tillery.

The move sparked a petition supporting Diggy and other breeds. Hundreds of supporters gathered at a township board meeting that month during which Police Chief Scott Underwood said Tillery could keep the pup for 10 days as a court decided his fate.

As of Monday, Tillery said he’s still waiting for a court date and Diggy remains in his care.

Detroit Dog Rescue, which helped secure the adoption, has said veterinary records prove Diggy is an American bulldog and not an illegal pit bull.

Bartolotta said the ordinance update was not prompted by that case alone. “We’ve been discussing this a long time. We knew we had to tweak it a little bit.”

Under the changes the township board approved in a 6-1 vote, Waterford Township doesn’t have to rely only on its animal control officers to determine whether a dog is a pit bull. It also lets owners challenge such an identification through an approved veterinarian.

But for some residents and other animal advocates who argue that the township’s regulations are too strict, the updates are not enough.

“They keep biting at this ordinance and making little changes, but this is an archaic law,” said Kristina Rinaldi, executive director at Detroit Dog Rescue, who attended the meeting. “There were so many residents of Waterford who spoke and don’t want this pit bull ban.”

Meanwhile, Tillery is waiting to hear back from the township.

“The ban for pit bulls in general is ridiculous, so any steps toward making it more lenient are good,” he said.