Skokie looks to put more teeth into vicious animal ordinance
Skokie Environmental Health Supervisor Bruce Jones and Health Director Catherine Counard present proposed revisions to Skokie's vicious animal ordinance Monday at Village Hall. | Mike Isaacs~Sun-Times Media
SKOKIE ANIMAL ATTACKS FACTS
• Since 1984, Skokie has averaged 33 reported animal bites a year.
• Since 2009, there have been 90 dog bites, 67 percent of which were considered “provoked” meaning the dog had reason to bite.
• About five unprovoked dog bites per year have been reported since 2009.
• In the last three years, 16 citations were issued — 10 for dangerous dogs and six for vicious dogs.
• In the last three years, 90 dog bites were reported with pit bulls responsible for 12 of the bites and German shepherds nine of the bites.
Updated: August 6, 2012 11:44AM
Skokie wants to put more teeth into its vicious animal ordinance after a few unprovoked dog attacks this year including two in March.
Skokie Director of Health Catherine Counard though said that it was unusual to have two incidents in a month. Overall statistics show that such attacks are relatively rare in Skokie.
“There’s about 2,000 dogs licensed in Skokie,” she said Monday at a Village Board meeting. “We only have a handful of incidents that we would consider unprovoked in a year.”
Counard and Environmental Health Supervisor Bruce Jones appeared before trustees to introduce the framework for a revised ordinance. Trustees are scheduled to vote on the ordinance next month.
“There were some serious issues of animal to animal violence earlier this year, which provoked considerable resident and staff concern, and were tragic for the owners who lost their pets,” Counard said in her report. “The attacks highlight the need to strengthen the department’s ability to hold pet owners accountable.”
In one of the March cases, a larger dog broke free from an owner’s property and attacked a papillon dog that was being walked outside. The dog was killed at the scene.
In another case the same month, a larger dog went after a small dog, but the owner picked up the dog in time. The larger dog then attacked the owner’s leg causing serious injury.
The Health Department believes such incidents are owner problems. Dogs are not properly trained or adequately restrained in such cases, officials say. They also believe the problem doesn’t belong to any one breed even though the two incidents in March involved pit bulls.
Counard said that overall statistics show that larger dogs of different breeds have been involved in attacks when they occur.
The proposed ordinance will establish progressive penalties for dangerous and vicious animal owners including requiring the following:
Immediate impoundment of animals inflicting grievous bodily injury.
Animal training or evaluation by a specialist.
Dangerous animals being fixed and microchipped.
Animals being restrained at all times.
Animals being restricted to an owner’s property unless leashed and muzzled.
Owners buying liability insurance.
Owners covering medical or veterinary bills of a person or animal.
Euthanasia of a vicious animal after the second offense.
Counard said that other vicious animal ordinances were carefully studied before the framework was drawn up.
The new ordinance also defines the differences between vicious animals and dangerous animals, the first being an animal that has attacked a person or another animal and the second being an animal that is threatening without an attack.
But even with greater flexibility to level stiffer penalties, the Health Department states its hands are tied when victims are unwilling to sign complaints, which is the majority of the time.
“Strengthening village code will not have an impact if the affected person is unwilling to sign a citation against the owner of the offending animal,” Counard said. “The department cannot take action against an owner of an offending animal, beyond issuing a warning, without a signed citation.”
Historically, only 20 percent of owners sign citations.
But Trustees Randy Roberts and Michael Lorge, both attorneys, want to see that provision changed.
“I question our approach here,” Roberts said. “If only 20 percent are signing complaints, we’re not holding the right people accountable. I think we need to rethink why it’s a requirement of our ordinance that a citizen has to sign a complaint.”
Roberts said there are other scenarios — such as car accidents — when police do not see the incident but still issue tickets.
“Rather than putting a citizen who might have a neighbor on the same block whose dog has bit their dog or bit their child or who knows — why should we have to put the burden on that citizen?” he asked.
Roberts said Village Staff could sign the complaint and be perceived as “the bad guy.”
Victims would likely feel more comfortable about testifying, he said.
The village’s current ordinance calls for a minimum $200 fine for an animal’s first bite, a minimum $300 fine if the animal has a history.
The proposed ordinance does not yet specify the new fines, but they would be greater.