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Skokie to Curb 'Problem Pet Owners'

The village is looking to categorize "dangerous" and "vicious" animals after two recent dog-related attacks. Meanwhile, a health expert says pit bulls, German shepherds are stereotyped and only account for small percentage of bites.

In Skokie as everywhere else, people love their dogs. What to do with the small number of owners who don’t control their dogs is now on the table for the village board.

Trustees are now pondering changes to the laws on the books regarding animal control. No decisions were made during Monday’s meeting, yet tighter regulations appear to be on the horizon with a likely August vote. This would reflect a shift in village thinking, which up until now had been to take a look at animal incidents on a case-by-case basis.

Village Dept. Director Dr. Catherine Counard began to look at the issue intensely when one dog mauled another dog to death and a Skokie resident was injured in another attack.

According to Counard, as horrific as those attacks were, they do not reflect a wider village problem. She emphasized Skokie has approximately 2,000 licensed dogs and the village has averaged only 33 dog bites to humans over an 18-year period from 1994 to 2011. In the last three years, the dog was provoked into biting in reaction to an incident about 67 percent of the time. There was an average of five incidents per year where the dog bit for no known reason. The village added that there have been a collective 25 attacks since 2005 by cats or wild animals.

Counard categorized the problem into two areas: “vicious” and “dangerous” animals.

“The difference between a dangerous animal and a vicious one is a dangerous animal that comes up to you and acts as if it is going to tear you apart,” she said. “But it didn’t touch you. But if it attacks you now it is vicious. If it bites or scratches you, that is vicious. That is a much more serious kind of transgression.”

Counard suggested a stiffer group of penalties for “problem pet owners.”  

Anyone who would have three violations in a three-year period with the same pet would be considered a problem pet owner, Counard said. If the animal was already declared vicious or dangerous then that number would be two, she added.

In terms of other consequences, Counard is proposing a variety of actions from steeper fines to mandatory training classes all the way to required euthanasia after a “vicious” animal commits a second offense. These same owners would not be allowed to get a pet license from the village for two years, she suggested.

Current laws problematic, trustee says -

With the way the situation is now, there are many cases where Skokie public officials are hamstrung by the existing regulations.  Specifically, if the complainant is not willing to sign a citation against the owner of the problem animal, as the village is beyond its authority right now if there is not a signed citation. Counard said an average of 20 percent who could sign such a complaint when situations have occurred have been willing to do so. 

There is no overwhelming reason for that to occur, it appears that some people are not willing to sign a complaint against what can often be a neighbor.

This scenario was problematic for Trustee Randy Roberts.

“If only 20 percent of the people are signing complaints, we are not holding the right people accountable,” he said Monday night. “I think we ought to rethink why is it the citizen has to file a complaint.”

Roberts said he believed a member of the village staff should be “the bad guy.”

Changing the rules could be part of the comprehensive overhaul village counsel Pat Hanley and the rest of the staff will work on before August.

Pit bull, shepherd statistics -

One other aspect of Counard’s report puts some holes in a stereotype that German shepherds or pit bulls are the main problem with biting dogs. According to the Health Director, over the last three years only 13 percent of bites were caused by pit bulls and ten percent by German shepherds. There are as many as 23 different breeds that have been thought to bite since 2009.

With that being the case, Counard said there are no plans to put together a breed specific proposal. 

“It’s the owners not controlling the dogs.”

Carmen July 06, 2012 at 04:12 PM
Boy this heat is something isn't it? - makes people AND dogs angry. How about euthanasia after one bite? Two offenses is too lenient. Unfortunately by the second offense those dogs have done some real damage. Does that shepherd jump the fence? If not, it's a barker and that's what most dogs do; especially shepherds - they love to bark. I have one - I know (FYI: it's not my dogs scaring people folks - she's too lazy). My shepherd got mauled by a pitbull (how's that for a twist?) which was running loose from two little kids who couldn't hold the cord/leash. It was human error - they couldn't handle an 80 pound angry dog. The kids ran off with the dog and again, SPD won't do anything unless they "see" the dog loose or in action. Can't ban a breed because these fighting breeders will mix them with something else just as volatile; labs chew people's toes and faces and they are supposed to be good family pets. HUGE fines for all offenders folks, people won't wake up unless they get hit where it counts: in the wallet.
SuburbanMary July 06, 2012 at 09:55 PM
Any reputable shelter or rescue organization will neuter or spay (let's get the terms right, Skokie Mike) the animal BEFORE it is given to a family for adoption -- because that is the policy. These organizations know that there are too many dogs out there already and this cuts down on more of them being bred unintentionally. It certainly does not have anything to do with a particular breed.
skokie 2 July 07, 2012 at 12:44 AM
Waiting on someone to blame it on Section 8.
h m July 07, 2012 at 02:08 PM
Maybe the village need to put down people after the commit crimes
sherwin dubren August 10, 2012 at 01:16 AM
It's another pit bull attack. This time in South Elgin. This dog clamped on to a 41 year old woman and she was smeared with blood. A police officer was forced to shot the dog when he feared an attack on himself. The dog had first attacked a 5 year old boy and then turned his attention to the 41 year old woman. The boy suffered bites to his arm and hand. I would never go near one of these pit bulls. They attack with no provocation. They should be banned.

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