City council actions :: Dangerous dog laws

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October 25, 2010
By: Jake Weyer
Jake Weyer
Council adds teeth to dangerous dog laws

The Minneapolis City Council on Oct. 8 approved several amendments to its dangerous dog laws in an effort to ease enforcement and improve public safety.  

A vicious attack on a mail carrier in North Minneapolis in late July prompted the revisions, which change what constitutes a dangerous dog and how the city deals with those animals and their owners.

The most significant change allows the city to declare a dog on its owner’s property potentially dangerous if it displays aggressive behavior toward someone, such as a letter carrier, who has a legal right to be there. The aggression has to prompt a defensive action. Previously, a dog had to bite an individual to get a potentially dangerous declaration, which results in numerous penalties including high registration fees and required use
of a muzzle and 3-foot leash outdoors.

Council members weren’t quick in their approval of the new language. Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy (12th Ward) was concerned that the new law might promote the harassment of certain breeds.

“This requires a significant amount of judgment calls,” said Colvin Roy, who ended up being the only council member to vote against the changes. “It’s difficult when dealing with animals, who can’t stand up and speak for themselves.”

Council Member Cam Gordon (2nd Ward) had the same concerns, but opted to wait and see how staff interpreted the new rule.

“It’s with some reservations and some second thoughts that I’m willing to support it,” he said.

Council Member Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) said animal regulations always cause emotional discussions, but she trusted the city’s vetting process for such amendments, which involves a review by the Animal Care & Control Advisory Committee. That group is made up of representatives from local animal-related businesses, rescue organizations, nonprofits, clinics and media, as well as urban farmers and residents.  

Another change allows the city to declare a dog dangerous if, off its owner’s property, it causes substantial physical harm to another domestic animal. Previously, attacks on domestic animals could only draw a dangerous declaration if the assaulted animal was killed.

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 council cut the wait time for appealing dangerous declarations from two years to one year and from a year to six months for potentially dangerous declarations. People filing appeals must first work with an approved trainer to complete specified programming. Appeal fees will be reduced under the new rules, but staff said the city would save money in the long run because of reduced compliance checks.

Other changes 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. Those owners also have to report lost dogs within 10 days under the revamped laws and are subject to ownership restrictions if their pets receive multiple declarations or harm someone.

Council Member Don Samuels (5th Ward) wanted to add the ability to declare dogs dangerous if they bite a bag or article or clothing without harming a person. After the council’s discussion, he withdrew that change, opting to first see how the new laws were applied.  

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Council denies building plan for Broadway Avenue

In a rare showing of opposition to a Minneapolis Planning Commission decision, the City Council voted 8–4 Oct. 8 to deny plans for a commercial building at 217-229 Broadway Ave. W.

The plans are for an expansion to a bar and strip club that would house a liquor store. Council members thought the plan went against a committee’s vision for revitalizing the area and was a story short of the two-story density recommendation for the site.

Council Member Gary Schiff (9th Ward), the council’s zoning chair, said the city’s definition of a second story is anything above 14 feet. Though not a true second story, the height of the proposed addition met that requirement, he said. Schiff thought the definition should be changed, but he said that couldn’t be done before the vote on the Broadway building. He advised the council to approve the plans to avoid legal consequences.

But other council members thought the city shouldn’t abide by an outdated definition.

“Clearly this is not consistent with the vision of this community,” said Council Member Diane Hofstede (3rd Ward). “We know what it is. It is what it is.”