A new section may be added to the City of Burton’s ordinance on animals to address vicious dogs and to ramp up punishment for owners that could include jail time.
Burton legislative committee members are expected to discuss Monday, Aug. 18 the possibility of a vicious dog ordinance for the city.
The legislative committee will discuss the draft of the ordinance during its Monday, Aug. 18, meeting, which comes after a June dog-biting incident on Carman Street that brought the idea back onto the city’s radar.
Language in the ordinance defines a vicious dog as “a dog that bites or attacks a person or a dog that bites and attacks and causes serious injury or death to another dog while the other dog is on the property or under control of its owner. The term shall also include any dog that the owner knows has a tendency, propensity or disposition to attack.”
City Attorney Rick Austin said the city has had a provision in its animal ordinance regarding dogs running at large, which it has used to prosecute in previous incidents.
“It includes dogs that would bite a jogger,” he said. Under that, we would then take steps to determine whether the dog needed to be euthanized or something else. It’s not that we’ve never had protections against vicious dogs.”
In the June case, a dog that had allegedly been violent toward others came into a neighbor’s yard and attacked another dog. Police brought the attacking dog to Genesee County Animal Control.
Stephani Lazar, director of Genesee County Animal Control, has said it’s difficult for the facility to handle animal calls in the area with its current staffing numbers.
“I have one officer to cover 700-something miles with one truck,” she said. The group received 400 calls about animals in June alone, including 29 dog-bite incidents across the county. Animal Control officers are available on weekends from noon-6 p.m. and respond only in cases in which a dog is dead or injured.
With the proposed ordinance, Austin said, “Essentially the bottom line of it is if your dog bites somebody, even the first time, the owner is guilty of the vicious dog ordinance and steps can be taken up to euthanizing the animal.”
The proposed ordinance would require anyone who may have a vicious dog to secure the animal on a leash no longer than 4 feet and use a muzzle if it’s outside of a designated, locked pen or kennel.
Police would also be authorized to use force, including deadly force, on a vicious dog while it would be seized and removed.
Councilwoman Ellen Ellenburg, who also heads the legislative committee, wanted that authority extended to the Department of Public Works employees so they could protect themselves, according to meeting minutes.
But Councilman and committee member Steve Heffner said it should be limited to police, while Austin said he felt the DPW supervisor and fire personnel would contact police if they came upon a potential situation involving a vicious dog.
Any vicious dog removed would be kept with Genesee County Animal Control until a district court hearing takes place to determine if the dog would be killed at the owner’s expenses or allowed to be confined at their home.
Those keeping a vicious dog must also have a sign that states “Beware of Dog” in clear view to the public and on the kennel or pen in which the animal is kept.
Councilman and committee member Dennis O’Keefe expressed an interest in placing liability on the owner of the dog, such as misdemeanor charges.
For those resident not in complying with the proposed regulations, the ordinance states “Herein after any sworn police officer or code enforcement officer shall have the authority to seize and remove any vicious dog who the officer has probable cause to believe he’s bitten or attacked another dog and who has caused serious injury or death to that dog.”
The owner would also be subject to a punishment of up to 90 days in jail, a $500 fine or both penalties. Austin has said he does not want to have to use criminal charges, except as a last resort.
Flint Emergency Manager Darnell Earley recently approved a vicious dog ordinance with similar punishments that make violations more than a civil infraction. The Flint ordinance took effect Aug. 1 in the city.
There are state provisions in place that regulate dangerous animals, with the Burton ordinance mirroring the state language in the definition of a vicious dog, as well as what the term does not include: a dog that bites or attacks someone knowingly trespassing on private property, a dog that bites or attacks a person tormenting or provoking the animal.
Austin noted, “In almost all of these attacks, the dog is off the owner’s property, so the dog running loose ordinance fits almost every situation, but it’s probably better that we have a vicious dog ordinance.”
“I don’t want any dog have to be euthanized,” said Austin.