Royal OakMarch 27, 2013
Dog ordinance amendment will not target specific breeds
By Chris Jackett
C & G Staff Writer
ROYAL OAK — An updated dog ordinance is on the way for residents.
Following a Feb. 4 City Commission discussion of dangerous dogs, existing ordinance enforcement and whether new restraints or breed-specific legislation is needed, city staff made a recommendation March 18 that was adopted unanimously — with commissioners Jim Rasor and Peggy Goodwin absent — to have City Attorney David Gillam draft an amended ordinance. It will not include breed-specific language.
“We (Gillam and Police Chief Corrigan O’Donohue) are not supporting any sort of breed-specific legislation,” Gillam said. “I’m not sure that’s the direction the commission wanted to go in anyway, but it’s one of the things that was discussed. That is clearly not our recommendation.”
The City Commission supported the decision. Those who favored breed-specific legislation last month were now convinced otherwise, due to contact with local animal groups and regional residents who told tales of their pets being misidentified as violators of breed-specific legislation in other cities.
“We’ve been overwhelmed by people showing very viable studies and information from other communities showing that breed-specific legislation does not yield positive results for a community,” Commissioner Kyle DuBuc said.
Mayor Jim Ellison’s statements against adopting breed-specific legislation drew applause from the dozen or so pit bull owners and supporters in the audience.
“I made my position quite clear when we first discussed this issue that over my dead body would this city have a breed-specific legislation,” Ellison said. “I think we have potential for a very, very good ordinance here that does not discriminate against a specific breed.”
Gillam said that the dog problems that spurred the ordinance amendments expand beyond any single breed.
“We seem to be seeing more and more instances in the (44th) District Court where we see people being cited for dogs running at large, dogs that don’t have a license, for dogs that are attacking other animals or even biting people,” Gillam said. “Even though we’re talking about amendments to the dog ordinance, I wanted to use the commission letter as an opportunity to try and get the word out to the public that we’re not operating in a vacuum right now. Even under the existing ordinance, if you’re going to own or possess a dog, you have an obligation to your neighbors, to the public and to anyone who might come in contact with the animal. And if you’re not going to be a responsible dog owner, there are potentially consequences.”
Noting that fines are the most common punishment, more extreme instances could even see a dog owner charged with a felony or jailed.
“You have to be a responsible dog owner no matter what changes we make to the ordinance,” Gillam said. “That has to be a given, even under the existing framework. If you’re not going to do that, then you shouldn’t own the dog in the first place. It’s not fair to your neighbors, it’s not fair to the animal and you’re exposing yourself to a lot of harm.”
Ellison echoed Gillam in his closing statements on the subject, saying that how a pet is raised and treated determines the type of dog it becomes, as opposed to the breed.
“Any pet will be a good pet if you take care of it and you love it and you adore it and you treat it well,” Ellison said. “The same goes if you ignore your pet. If you don’t take care of your pet, if you don’t walk it, if you don’t feed it, if you don’t water it, if you ignore it, it’s not going to be a good pet and you’re going to pay the consequences.”
Despite the commission’s agreement with the need for necessary changes to the dog ordinance to help specify what a dangerous dog is and direct residents on how to care for their pets, Commissioner Mike Fournier said there needs to be an educational component so residents know about the ordinance and the best practices for being a pet owner.
“We can change the existing ordinance, but that doesn’t mean people understand our existing ordinance,” Fournier said. “It sounds kind of cheesy, but I think for some people, ‘It’s never my dog. My dog is never going to be dangerous. I’m the best dog owner in the world.’ But, if that’s the case, then I wouldn’t step on excrement every time I walk to town, if people were responsible dog owners. I wouldn’t have been bit three times by an animal, by three different dogs, if people were responsible.
“I would just like to look at education as a key part of this, because, if our intent here is to simply make it harder when people make a mistake, I think we’ve achieved that. But if our intent is to prevent dog bites, prevent some dog bites, prevent a dog bite, then I think education has to be a big part of this.”
Gillam has also suggested a citywide dog census since most of the dogs that have problems are not licensed with the city, as they should be through the City Clerk’s Office.
For more information on the existing ordinance or how to obtain a dog license, visit www.ci.royal-oak.mi.us.