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.
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.”