Dog ordinance to get a makeover

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An ordinance that would have imposed heavy fines on dogs deemed vicious by the courts is set for a makeover after Vernon Council members expressed doubts about the merits of the measure.

The Township Council voted on Monday evening to table Ordinance 17-10 and revisit the requirements included therein, with plans to introduce an amended version next month.

The original version of the measure would have imposed an annual license fee of $700 on owners of dogs determined to be dangerous by a judge. The ordinance would not have applied to broad categories of canines – such as entire dog breeds – but would rather have been aimed at individual dogs that had been involved in an incident. But Council members Sandra Ooms, Patrick Rizzuto and Dan Kadish said they wanted to add more nuance to the regulation.

Both Kadish and Rizzuto suggested adding details distinguishing between different types of vicious attacks. Kadish in particular specified there should be a difference between dog-on-dog fights, incidents in which a human was bitten while trying to break up a dog fight, and outright dog-on-human attacks. Fine should be tailored to fit the type of incident, he said.

Ooms called for changes to the amount of the fee included in the ordinance, questioning whether the goal of a $700 fee was to penalize owners of dangerous dogs or pressure them into euthanizing the animals with exorbitant costs. That money would be better spent on improvements to make the dog owner's property safer or on educational behavior courses, she said. Township Chief Financial Officer Elke Yetter noted, though, the fee must be at least $150 to cover the dangerous dog fee levied by the state.

Councilwoman Jean Murphy said in an email that the license fee for a dangerous dog can fall within a $150-$700 range.

The Council's ruminations were supported by several township residents, who called on the governing body to do more research and carefully reconsider the measure before passing it.

Resident Tom McClachrie said the logic of the original ordinance was flawed in that it would simply levy punitive damages on dangerous dog owners rather than making the community safer. Instead of a hefty fee, McClachrie said the measure could include requirements for vicious dog owners to build a six foot fence in their yard and keep their dog muzzled and on a leash when outside the house.

“If the concern is about safety, then you have to address safety,” he said. “A $700 fee is not really improving the safety of either the neighbors or the mail carrier or anyone else who goes on the property (where the dog lives).”

The council voted to table the original ordinance for reconsideration, and expects to introduce a revised version at its Aug. 14 meeting.

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