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A three-alderman Human Services Committee voted 2-1to send the dangerous dog ordinance amendments championed by Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, to the full City Council for further debate. The vote, however, included an instruction to City staff, including the legal department, to sit with Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, to rewrite portions of the new ordinance. Ironically, Ald. Fiske was the lone “no” vote.

The revised ordinance would grant the Chief of Police or a designee (presumably the police animal warden) the power to proclaim certain dogs “dangerous.” Under the current ordinance, the court system, including the City’s administrative adjudication department, appears to have that power. The amended ordinance also includes increased fines, license fees and a streamlined process for euthanizing dangerous dogs should they escape or be let out of required enclosures.

Saying that the real problem appeared to be more with enforcement of the current ordinance, Ald. Fiske called the proposed revisions a “Band-Aid on top of a wound you have not cleaned.” She called instead for a wholesale rewrite of the entire City dog ordinance. She pointed to ordinances in Park Ridge and Highland Park as models the City should follow and recommended that the matter be tabled until it could be examined completely and fully by the Committee and staff.

As she had done one month earlier, Ald. Fiske called for the involvement of a proposed, yet never established, Humane Advisory Committee. “Other communities have done this; they are way ahead of us,” she said. Such a committee could provide education to irresponsible dog-owners, she said.

Ald. Fiske could not find support from outgoing Committee Chair Mark Tendam, presiding over his last meeting, nor from Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward.

When Ald. Fiske pointed to specific provisions of the proposed ordinance that troubled her, however, both Alds. Holmes and Tendam agreed that improvements could be made. One section provides that once a canine has been proclaimed a “dangerous dog” and has been directed to be contained in an enclosure, if it is not in the enclosure it “shall” be impounded and taken to a vet to be destroyed by lethal injection.
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A strict reading of that language could mean that walking a dog from an enclosure into a dog-owner’s house could subject a dangerous dog to lethal injection, said Ald. Fiske. A negligence standard should apply, she added, taking a suggestion from Assistant City Attorney Katherine Agonis.

Further, another section would provide that “prior to a decision,” an evaluation by a certified animal behaviorist will be performed if requested and paid for by the dog-owner. But the ordinance does not specify which decision is meant, – the decision to designate a dog as dangerous, the decision to confine, or the decision to euthanize. Ms. Agonis said the drafter intended to reference the decision to label a dog “dangerous.”

Another section granting the Chief of Police the power to pronounce a dog dangerous requires an investigation, then states that the investigation “may” include a consideration of the dog’s temperament, an evaluation of prior complaints and veterinary or medical evidence. Ald. Fiske said that the word “may” should be changed to “shall.” Both Alds. Tendam and Holmes agreed.

Ald. Fiske again urged the committee to table the measure, but they declined to do so. Once it was clear the ordinance was going to be sent to full Council, Ald. Fiske asked for the opportunity to meet with City staff and the legal department to work on revisions to certain sections, specifically the sections referenced earlier. Ald. Tendam agreed and then called the vote.

The committee of three voted to send the amended ordinance to full Council, but the version going forward will not be the current version. Rather, Ald. Fiske will work with staff to revise the ordinance. Ald. Holmes and Tendam voted yes. Ald. Fiske, clinging to her hopes of tabling the measure and rewriting the entire dog code, voted no.

Soon an amended “dangerous dog” ordinance will appear on City Council’s agenda. Until Ald. Fiske and staff have rewritten the current version, however, Council will not know what it will contain.