Skokie trustees place animal law changes on hold
The same month that a Skokie family lost their beloved dog, Mickey, to a vicious pit bull attack, Fayla Rodriguez, 12, and Audrey Fisher, 35, suffered the same fate with the same breed of dog in Chicago. I Photo by Scott Stewart~Sun-Times
REVISED VICIOUS ANIMAL LAWS
• New definitions of terms like dangerous animal, great bodily harm, pet owner.
• Stronger sanctions against owners of animals who are found to be dangerous or vicious.
• Restrictions on “problem pet owners” and their ability to own animals.
• Greater ability for the village to initiate proceedings against someone thought to own a dangerous or vicious animal.
Village Trustees are scheduled to consider the final ordinance Aug. 20.
Updated: September 10, 2012 1:16PM
SKOKIE — Skokie will have to wait a little longer to add teeth to its vicious animal ordinance, which is being revised after a couple of dog attacks in the village earlier this year.
Although village trustees were expected to vote on a final draft of the ordinance Monday, they instead tabled their vote until Aug. 20 based on some concerns raised during the meeting.
Commenting on the ordinance Monday were both residents whose small dogs were mauled to death by larger pit bulls as well as another dog owner who said the revisions need more scrutiny and left too much ambiguous.
Health Director Catherine Counard emphasized that the problem in the village is not with any one breed of animal, but with a small number of irresponsible owners. The draft ordinance describes them as “problem pet owners.”
“We think this is an owner issue and when we look at cases over time, invariably it’s a large dog that has not been trained,” she said. “And we find in many instances the dog has not been fixed, neutered and spayed.”
Vicious dog attacks are rare in Skokie. Statistics previously released by the Health Department show that a small percentage of the 2,000 dogs licensed in the village present a problem. “Most dog owners are responsible,” Counard said.
But when incidents do occur, the village has been hampered because only 20 percent of victims sign complaints. Sometimes, victims are reluctant because the incident is between neighbors.
A witness or even a police officer will now be able to sign a complaint if the victim refuses to do so under the new ordinance. That will allow the village to take stronger action.
“A complaint may be initiated by a witness to the incident, the injured person or owner of the injured animal, or the village of Skokie,” states an added provision in the ordinance.
The revised ordinance also calls for stronger sanctions against owners of animals who are found to be dangerous or vicious, restrictions on “problem pet owners” and their ability to own animals and greater ease for the village to initiate proceedings against someone thought to own a dangerous or vicious animal.
The ordinance also differentiates between animal attacks. Those animals that cause “great bodily harm” — meaning serious harm or even death to a human being — can be ordered euthanized if the animal was unprovoked.
But a dog owner Monday, a Skokie resident, questioned some provisions in the ordinance including the definition of a dangerous dog, which he said was “way overdrawn” and the fact that there aren’t exemptions made for dogs protecting a guardian or a family in that definition.
He also raised concerns about the ease in which complaints can be acted on against dog owners without sufficient evidence.
Corporation Counsel Pat Hanley said the definition of a vicious animal was patterned after a similar ordinance in Highland Park. He also said that the ordinance allows for a fair investigation before sanctions or penalties are administered.
Trustee Randy Roberts said that the concerns deserved more consideration by village staff even if he didn’t know that he agreed with all of them.
Dr. Jayshree Patel, whose pet papillon, Mickey, was killed by a pit bull in March, told trustees that she still has trouble sleeping since the incident. Her son was walking the dog when he was mauled to death.
“You should do something about this dangerous vicious animal because the pain we are going through right now, you can’t even understand,” she said. “We are going through such a pain because of this vicious animal (attack).”
She said Mickey was a part of the family. “He was like my son,” she said. “You will not understand the pain unless you go through that pain.”
Joseph Diz said his wife was walking their cocker spaniel when that dog, too, was killed by a pit bull.
The pit bull got away, he said, and was later captured and released to the owner. The owner was fined and has not paid anything and the dog is now missing and at large.
Diz said this incident shows a need for stronger laws in the village.