By Nicole Hennessy
After a long, somewhat tense meeting Oct. 13, Avon Lake City Council passed two dog-related ordinances that more clearly define the city’s expectations of dog owners, as well as the consequences for any incident that may occur.
Right up until voting, council members continued to comb through the ordinances, debating the wording and intent throughout.
“Every week,” Councilman David Kos, who’d been tasked with piecing together much of the legislation, said quietly as questions continued to come up.
“There’s over 30 pages here of things that make this community safer,” he said of the first ordinance, urging council members to pass the legislation, and then make amendments if questions remained
or sections needed strengthening.
Both Mayor Gregory Zilka and Councilman John Shondel expressed concerns, suggesting the legislation needed to be reworked and that the level of complexity (even with outside legal assistance) was too great.
“I can’t imagine that we can’t wait two more weeks to study this more carefully,” said Shondel, ultimately voting against both of the ordinances.
After Shondel spoke, Council President Martin O’Donnell, regarding the ordinances, recommended Kos, “table it.”
Again, Kos encouraged the ordinances be passed and that council members present amendments if there is a need.
After two dogs were killed and a dog owner was injured in two separate attacks involving pit bulls this
summer, council began reviewing the city’s ordinances, which were found to have holes when it came to things like consequences for a dog bite.
The first ordinance of the two passed Tuesday – the “pre-bite” portion of the legislation – will help residents and city officials identify potentially dangerous dogs before an incident occurs. If a dog is seen as problematic, law enforcement can then assess the situation and ultimately label the dog a “potential nuisance.”
The dog or dogs in question would then be required to be kept under certain conditions, such as remaining in a fenced-in yard. Fines associated with the potential nuisance label would increase with each incident.
That’s where the second ordinance passed – the “post-bite” portion – comes into play for a dog that attacks a person or another animal.
The dog or dogs in question must be registered with police and the owner must obtain a $100,000 insurance policy.
In this section, not only must the dog be kept in a fenced yard or an enclosure, which is clearly described within the ordinance, the dog must also be muzzled when taken off of its property.
The ordinances also clearly state what signage owners of dogs with nuisance, dangerous or vicious designations must obtain (from the city), how tall fences must be and other specifications designed to make each situation within the city uniform and predictable.
Also, once a dog is designated, no matter the designation, it must wear a neon yellow collar or vest so that passersby can immediately identify it as problematic.
All dogs with a history of aggression will then be listed by the city according to address, so residents are aware of them when they are out walking.
After the second attack, which spurred the speedy passage of these ordinances, dog owners Donald and Melinda Golas were fined $300 after their pit bulls attacked an 81-year-old man and killed the Shih Tzu he was walking on Aug. 10.
The couple is currently seeking an appeal.
Melinda, speaking before council Tuesday, complained that she’d found 26 incidents within the past two years in which dogs bit people, none of which resulted in a designation for the dog or a fine for the owner, leading her to believe law enforcement within the city is not consistent.
“While it may not be possible to cite those owners with any offense, those dogs can and should, assuming they are still living, be designated as dangerous,” she wrote in a subsequent e-mail to members of council members.
“I’m of the opinion that the Police Department had the tools to manage these situations versus over complicating it with additional legislation and ordinances,” she continued, doubting the necessity of most of the new legislation.
Other community members who have been affected by the recent attacks urged council to act while they debated holding off two more weeks, commending them for their decision to do so.
Johnna Lyman’s corgi-beagle mix, Daisy, was euthanized after a fight with a pit bull in June.
“It’s time,” she said of passing the ordinances. “Move on.”
Contact Nicole Hennessy at firstname.lastname@example.org