New bill would create ‘dangerous dogs’ registry

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News
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Lansing — Message to dogs: Don’t bite the messenger or a court could put them on a “dangerous dog” registry and their owners behind bars in some instances under new proposed legislation.

A new bill from state Rep. Jon Hoadley, a first-term Kalamazoo Democrat, would make sure the owners of “dangerous dogs” have their day in court if postal workers or others file a complaint that could require a hearing.

The legislation also would create a state registry of properties with problem dogs “if all the facts bear out,” according to Hoadley’s office, which recommends a four-year prison stint for owners of repeat biters.

Under a court order, a “dangerous or potentially dangerous dog” would be registered, and local letter carriers, utility workers, delivery drivers and others could be notified of the potentially deadly dog’s address.

If owners fail to control their animal it could mean four years in prison, according to sentencing guidelines in the legislation, although the prison term is ultimately up to prosecutors and judges.

Hoadley said the legislation is meant to protect postal workers, delivery drivers and others.

“There really is power in just knowing,” he said. “Knowing where there are more dangerous dogs” allows people to “be extra cautious when approaching this residence.”

More than 6,500 postal workers were bitten by dogs across the country in 2015, according to the U.S. Postal Service. The Postal Service ranked the Detroit area last year as having the 15th highest number of postal service dog bites in the nation at 32 bites.

“It’s not just an issue for letter carriers,” said Elizabeth Najduch, spokeswoman for the Detroit Post Office. “Any dog, even the family dog, has the potential to bite. And that’s the message we try to get out to customers.”

Lansing postal worker Dan McCormick remembers the day he was bitten by a pit bull while on his route in the winter of 1999.

“It’s a pretty common thing,” McCormick said. “Even on a weekly basis in Lansing here, there’s probably someone who gets bit by a dog or attacked by a dog. We go onto people’s properties. It happens.”

Hoadley said he’s worked on the legislation for a year after his predecessor, former state Rep. Sean McCann, D-Kalamazoo, asked him to continue to fight against owners who don’t stop their dogs from attacking people.

The legislation faces an uncertain fate. Republicans control both the House and Senate, but Democratic-sponsored legislation with solid bipartisan support tends to receive floor votes.

In Ingham County, people gritted their teeth through nearly 1,000 bites in 2015. But those could have been from dogs, cats, lizards, raccoons or other wild critters because the county animal control office doesn’t separate the data by animal type, said John Dinon, the animal control director of Ingham County.

The county so far this year has endured 473 bites, Dinon said. About 60-70 percent of those were likely from dogs, he said.

Dinon said cat bites can also pose a serious risk because their dirty mouths can cause infections.

“Cat bites can be pretty severe. … The only time I ever missed work was from a cat bite,” he said.

But cats would not be added to the “dangerous dog” registry under the legislation.

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