Rules for aggressive dogs discussed in Ishpeming

ISHPEMING – The Ishpeming City Council weighed the pros and cons of a proposed dangerous dog ordinance and approved amendments to a weed, grass and debris ordinance at its meeting Wednesday.

The proposed dangerous dog ordinance was based on an ordinance drafted in downstate Sterling Heights. Ishpeming City Attorney David Savu, who sat on the ordinance committee, said the panel looked at many different dangerous dog ordinances, singling out Sterling Heights as the best.

“The highlight of the ordinance is if you have a dog that menaces, chases, displays threatening behavior – or otherwise threatens a person or animal – or if your dog causes injury to a person or an animal or if your dog aggressively bites a person or animal, or exhibits three instances of any of those behaviors in a six-month period, any one of our police officers can make a determination that that dog is a potentially dangerous dog,” Savu said. “Once that determination is made, the owner of that dog has a right to appeal to a hearing board. If they don’t appeal, then that determination is final.”

Once the final determination is made, owners would have to follow specific requirements for possessing a potentially dangerous dog. Some of these requirements include: restraining the dog on a secure leash with a muzzle or by a secure fence when outside; having a microchip – containing the name and approximate age of the dog, its status as a potentially dangerous dog and the owner’s information – implanted by a licensed veterinarian; providing a color photo of the dog to the city clerk and police department; and obtaining and maintaining public liability insurance with policy coverage for dog bites or dog-caused injuries in the minimum amount of $250,000.

Councilman Mike Tonkin questioned Savu about the interpretation of the ordinance. He gave as an example: he walks by a house every day with a dog in a fenced-in yard that chases and barks at him every time he passes. Would this dog be considered potentially dangerous?

“I would consider it to be,” Savu said. “And I would expect an officer to construe it that way, too. If it weren’t for that fence, the dog would take your head off. Yes, it would be.

“We have to start somewhere with ground rules – and this is a good start – and if we find it doesn’t work or we find things in here that aren’t reasonable upon further review, we’ll go in and fix it.”

According to the proposed ordinance, a dog can be classified as dangerous if it causes severe injury to a person or animal, kills a person or domestic animal or is used in the commission of a crime including, but not limited to, dog fighting or guarding of illegal operations.

Once a dog is determined dangerous, the owner must either have the dog euthanized by a licensed veterinary clinic or have the dog permanently removed from the city, providing the police department with the dog’s new address.

A board would be set up to hear appeals on whether a dog is potentially dangerous. The composition of that board was left to the council to decide. Ishpeming City Manager Jered Ottenwess volunteered to be the hearing officer.

This was the first reading of the ordinance, so no action was taken. The council will have an opportunity to vote on the ordinance at its March meeting.

In other business, the council unanimously approved amendments to the city’s ordinance regulating “noxious weeds, tall grass and miscellaneous debris.” The amendments broaden the definition of debris and define items that aren’t considered debris.

Adelle Whitefoot can be reached at 906-486-4401.