On May 27, City Council amended an ordinance addressing the ownership of “dangerous dogs” by an 8-1 vote. Though “dangerous dog” sounds like a mere turn of phrase, in both Evanston and the State of Illinois as a whole, it exists as a legal term with several qualifications. The ordinance, as amended, defines what constitutes a “dangerous dog” by examining several aspects of the dog’s background.

The definition of a “dangerous dog” includes “any dog with a known propensity, tendency or disposition to attack unprovoked, to cause injury or to otherwise endanger the safety of human beings or domestic animals.” The definition also encompasses any dog “trained as an attack dog” (except by the Evanston Police Department), any dog “harbored … for the purpose of dog fighting,” or any dog which, “in a vicious or terrorizing manner approaches any person in an apparent attitude of attack, whether or not the attack is consummated or capable of being consummated.”

Under the amendments, owners of a “dangerous dog” are obligated to “spay or neuter” the dog, “have an identifying microchip implanted” in the dog, and obtain an insurance policy in an amount not less than $100,000 that is “separate and distinct from any homeowner’s insurance policy,” to cover any injury or damage “resulting from the acts” of the dog. In addition, if the owner wishes to build a pen or dog run, the enclosure must be constructed with a top, as well as 6-foot sides firmly secured to a concrete floor.

According to several local veterinary clinics and hospitals, the medical procedures cited in the ordinance could cost somewhere in the range of $400 to $500, depending on the circumstances.

Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, says he disagrees with the ordinance. As the sole dissenting vote on the City Council, Ald. Moran says, “My objection is not a resistance to the notion that there is such a thing as a dangerous dog. It is that they might not be describing a dangerous dog.” His chief concern is that he feels the definition provided in the ordinance is far too encompassing, noting “a dog somebody perceives as maybe preparing to bite someone, doesn’t describe, in my mind, a dangerous dog.”

During the mandatory process of applying for an animal license, a dog owner must disclose whether they have “been advised [the dog is dangerous] in writing by the chief of police” or if “the dog has been adjudicated as dangerous by a court of competent jurisdiction.” Additionally, however, the owner must disclose whether he or she has any “reason to believe that the dog is dangerous.” Failure to divulge any pertinent information would be a crime.

Under the ordinance, it appears that the City’s animal warden and the police may designate a dog as being dangerous within the meaning of the ordinance. If an owner wishes to contest such a description, there are means to appeal the decision. A ‘dangerous dog’ owner may file a written request “for review of said categorization,” which must include “facts to support the owner’s belief that the dog is not dangerous.”