Skokie animal ordinance gains teeth
REVISED ANIMAL LAW
• 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.
Updated: October 1, 2012 6:12AM
SKOKIE — Skokie’s revised vicious-animal ordinance, unanimously approved Aug. 20 by the Village Board, has more teeth to it now, which will allow the Health Department to better address unprovoked animal attacks when they occur, village leaders say.
But one dog owner and Skokie resident says those teeth are too sharp and there remain plenty of problems with the ordinance. Though the Village Board tabled voting on the revisions earlier in the month, making a few tweaks to it before the Aug. 20 meeting, resident David Tenenbaum was still not satisfied.
“The haphazard and imprudent ordinance could easily condemn anyone’s dog as a dangerous or vicious dog, even Rin Tin Tin, for protecting children and families,” he said following the vote.
Tenenbaum said the village didn’t craft the ordinance carefully enough and wanted it tabled again. He is even looking for support to repeal it and said the ordinance “invites litigation.”
But village officials say the law is a carefully considered measure that mirrors other community vicious-animal ordinances.
Though vicious-animal attacks are statistically rare in Skokie, the village was often hampered in addressing them because only 20 percent of victims sign complaints.
Under the revised ordinance, a witness or even a police officer will be able to sign a complaint if the victim refuses to do so, allowing 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,” according to a new provision in the ordinance.
The revised ordinance also calls for stronger sanctions against owners of animals 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.
Following Tenenbaum’s concerns raised earlier this month, the ordinance was changed to add greater defense of an animal attack in certain incidents. If the animal attack is to prevent physical harm against an owner or people in his household, for example, that animal would not be considered dangerous or vicious.
Another change allows that if an animal or person is on the owner’s property without his or her consent, that can be raised as a legitimate defense now. Another more lenient change is that if an animal is impounded but the owner is found not at fault, the owner will be relieved of all costs for the sheltering of the animal.
The village revised its ordinance after two pit bull attacks occurred earlier this year.
But Health Director Catherine Counard has emphasized that the problem in the village is not with any one breed of animal but with a small number of irresponsible owners among the 2,000 dogs licensed in the village.