Discussions to continue about penalizing owners of nuisance animals

By: Victoria Mitchell, | Royal Oak Review | Published May 17, 2017

CLAWSON — City Attorney Jon Kingsepp was expected to continue the discussion May 16 about a new ordinance governing animals deemed a public nuisance.

Kingsepp was expected to revisit the conversation that started earlier in the month after the majority of City Council members passed the first reading of an ordinance creating sanctions aimed at animals that cause a nuisance. The council was not expected to pass the ordinance on second reading during the May 16 meeting, which was held after the Review went to press.

The local law defines behaviors and outlines punishments and penalties.

“It has increasing punishments for beyond the first offense of a civil infraction,” Kingsepp said. “And a second (civil infraction) goes up to $500, and then the other one — if it is a recurring event — is a misdemeanor.”

The first offense would be a civil infraction and a fine of not more than $100.

City Prosecutor Erich Goetz said the ordinance is really looking at canines.

The ordinance could pertain to an aggressive dog on a leash while being walked, or in a yard unattended.

According to ordinance language, laws would be applicable to loud or frequent barking, yelping, howling or other noises causing annoyance to a neighborhood; destruction of real or personal property of persons; molesting or injuring any person; or causing unsanitary conditions because of droppings. 

“I think we’re just trying to give the officers, if necessary, the ability to deal with these situations,” Goetz said.

Goetz said he was surprised by the fairly significant number of these cases he has already received.
“This is kind of where we are heading with this,” he said. “The only remedy we really had — because of the lack of any kind of ordinance — was basically to tell the officers to tell the homeowners to call animal control, and Oakland County Animal Control isn’t going to come to Clawson very frequently to deal with barking-dog issues.”

Kingsepp said the original directive for the ordinance came from code enforcement officers.

“They have been having a number of issues on this,” he said.

The ordinance passed a first reading May 2 with a 3-2 vote. Councilwoman Deborah Wooley and Councilman Matt Ulbrich were the two dissenters.

“I do think the ordinance as it is written is a little overzealous or a little unclear on the final application of it, but we’ll see what happens,” Ulbrich said.

Ulbrich questioned the portion of the ordinance stating that “any animal which shall cause serious or continued annoyance to people passing on the street.”

Ulbrich said he was trying to imagine what that situation could be and asked if it would apply to someone just walking by who was barked at.

Goetz said the ordinance would be targeted more toward aggressively acting dogs causing anxiety and things of that nature where there is a reasonable fear that the dog would jump on the person or their pets and attack.

Councilman Jim Horton voted in favor of passing the first reading, but showed a bit of hesitancy as a homeowner living on a corner lot with two dogs that bark at passersby.

Goetz said he and his partner, Renis Nushaj, would be dealing with these infractions as they come to the court.

“We’re not looking to make dog owners’ lives any more difficult than necessary. We are both dog owners, so I think that we both have a different perspective on the dog-related issues,” Goetz said. “I don’t think there is a real issue or significant concern with improper application or overapplication.”

Horton said he does understand where this could be applicable — for example, if a homeowner leaves and their dog is out in the yard barking for three hours.

“It doesn’t mean the first instance is a nuisance,” Kingsepp said. “Characteristically, a nuisance is something that is a re-occuring event, and the officers will probably be instructed on that as well.”