City council actions :: Dog laws

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October 11, 2010
By: Jake Weyer
Jake Weyer
Council will consider changes to dog laws

Two months after a pair of pit bulls mauled a mail carrier in North Minneapolis, a City Council committee discussed changes to the city’s dog laws designed to improve identification of aggressive canines before they bite.

Dan Niziolek, manager of the Minneapolis Animal Care and Control office, presented the changes to the council’s Public Safety and Health Committee, which forwarded the amendments to the full council. The council was scheduled to vote on the matter Oct. 8, after this issue of the Journal went to press.   

Minneapolis has worked for years to strengthen its laws on aggressive dogs, a recurring topic highlighted whenever someone is attacked.

“I’m hearing positive comments in the community about people feeling safer when they’re out and about,” Niziolek said. “But clearly after the tragic incident this summer involving the letter carrier, we have some work yet to be done. Our changes today reflect that.”

The first proposal would allow the city to declare an animal potentially dangerous if it charges, but doesn’t bite, someone such as a letter carrier who has a legal right to be on the property. The law would not apply to provoked dogs.

Potentially dangerous declarations impose numerous restrictions on the dog’s owner, including high registration fees and the use of a 3-foot leash and muzzle when outside. Currently, dogs can only be declared potentially dangerous if they bite someone on their owner’s property.

“We’re trying to be proactive and declare animals before they bite,” Niziolek said.

Another change would allow the city to declare a dog that bites another animal dangerous, which further beefs up the penalties. Owners of dogs that are declared dangerous need to post signs to notify the public, secure a $300,000 insurance bond and have their dog spayed or neutered in addition to the penalties for potentially dangerous animals.

The city currently has two options when a dog attacks another animal. It can have the dog destroyed or declare it potentially dangerous. Niziolek said some cases are too severe for a potentially dangerous declaration, but not bad enough to kill the aggressive dog.

Another proposed ordinance change would reduce the wait time for appealing potentially dangerous declarations from a year to six months. The wait time for appealing dangerous declarations would be cut from two years to one year. People filing appeals must first work with an approved trainer to complete specified programming.

“We believe that’s an appropriate time period for people to have worked with their animal and come back to us for us to evaluate it,” Niziolek said.

Appeal fees would be reduced under the new rules, but Niziolek said the city would save money in the long run because of reduced compliance checks.

Other changes would include restricting daycare owners and operators from housing dangerous or potentially dangerous animals in their facilities and requiring owners of declared dogs to show a muzzle and leash upon request. Owners would also have to report lost dogs within 10 days.

If someone were convicted of harm caused by a dog, one of the law changes would allow an ownership restriction of up to five years. A restriction could also be set if an owner is cited for a potentially dangerous dog on two separate occasions.

City Council Member Don Samuels (5th Ward) said the city should also be able to declare a dog dangerous if it bites a mailbag or article of clothing. Right now, the declaration as it applies to bites on humans requires a certain level of bodily harm.

“I just feel that if a dog bites up your bag or gnaws the stick or something, that’s a pretty scary animal,” Samuels said.

Niziolek said he would revise the law changes to incorporate language about dogs attacking a defensive devise.

Minneapolis is home to roughly 100,000 dogs, said Lori Olson, the city’s director of environmental management. The city gets about 400 bite reports a year and 150 to 200 of those result in some sort of declaration.

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or jweyer@mnpubs.com.