ROYAL OAK — The City Commission April 15 unanimously approved the first reading of an amendment to the city’s dog ordinance that clearly defines what the city will consider as a potentially dangerous dog.
It also would repeal the city’s complete ban on dangerous dogs and establishes strict rules that the owners of such dogs must abide by to keep their pet.
The proposed amendment is free of language that would label certain breeds as potentially dangerous, a point of contention among commissioners and residents in past discussions.
The Commission will have to approve a second reading of the amendment at a subsequent meeting before it becomes law.
The current dog ordinance only prohibits people from owning dogs with previous records of violence.
Previously, the commission discussed an amended ordinance that would define certain breeds as potentially dangerous. When word reached residents and animal groups about the language targeting breeds like pit bulls and bulldogs, the commission decided in March that the amended ordinance should not include breed-specific language.
City Attorney David Gillam said the proposed ordinance is based on existing law in Farmington Hills and Wyandotte.
“The proposed ordinance would create an additional classification and give the city’s animal control officer additional authority to deal with both dangerous dogs and dogs she considered to be potentially dangerous,” Gillam said.
The proposed amendment provides four definitions of a potentially dangerous dog:
•A dog that has caused a less-than-severe injury to another domestic animal.
•A dog that chases or menaces another domestic animal or person without warrant.
•A dog that animal control officers have impounded three or more times within a 12-month period for escaping its yard.
•A dog acting aggressively while fenced in a yard from which the dog could easily escape.
The owner would be notified that their dog has been labeled potentially dangerous and given a chance to appeal the classification.
The appeal board, the proposed amendment says, would consist of a representative from the Police Department, a representative from the City Manager’s Office and one resident appointed by the City Commission.
“The idea is to provide the dog owner with an avenue to appeal,” Gillam said.
Once the classification is final, the dog owner would have to take specific steps in order to keep the dog. First, the homeowner would have to register the dog with the city and post a sign that a potentially dangerous dog is on site. Second, the dog must attend obedience classes within 30 days of being classified and must show proof of successfully passing the class within 90 days.
For owners of dogs considered dangerous — defined by the act of attacking a human or causing severe injury or death to another domestic animal — they must follow the same steps and take out a $1 million insurance bond on the dog, according to the proposed amendment.
If owners do not take the required steps, the city may confiscate the dog, the proposed amendment says.
If the dog is labeled potentially dangerous or dangerous, the owner could go through a procedure to have the label modified or removed after 18 months of good behavior.
In extreme cases, the animal control officer could call for the dog to be put down. The owner can appeal such a decision in the 44th District Court.
Commissioner Peggy Goodwin expressed concern over the power given to the animal control officer in determining if a dog is potentially dangerous.
“I think we are actually providing more due process than other communities do,” Gillam said.
In other communities, he said there is no appealing the decision of an animal control officer.
Mayor Pro-tem Patricia Capello called the proposed ordinance fair for both neighbors and dog owners.
“It gives both the people who are afraid of the dangerous dogs an option, and it gives the owner not only options, but it gives them the responsibility and instruction on what they need to do to move their dog from one category down to where they want it to be,” Capello said.
Mayor Jim Ellison commended the board for keeping an open dialogue on the matter.
“I think we came up with a very, very good ordinance,” Ellison said. “It’s something we’ve needed to do for a while in dealing with dangerous dogs.”