Add some bite to dog control laws

There are laws to deal with dogs — and their owners — who harm or kill people. But regulations are lacking when it comes to canines that are potentially dangerous but have not yet injured anyone in an attack.

That could change if the Legislature approves a bill sponsored by Rep. Sean McCann, D-Kalamazoo.

McCann speculates that if the proposed law had been in effect, it could have prevented the tragic death of a jogger. Two cane corsos have been euthanized after fatally mauling the man in Lapeer County last month. The animals were the subject of repeated complaints. Their owners have been charged with second degree murder and possession of a dangerous animal.

While the jogger’s death is part of the impetus for McCann’s bill, he notes that even before the tragedy he was approached by animal control officers who encountered potentially dangerous dogs but could do nothing because the animals had not yet injured anyone. They showed a vicious nature and had aggressive behavior, including chasing and nipping at cyclists and pedestrians passing their homes.

Under the proposed legislation, animal control officers or concerned citizens could file a formal complaint and bring the dog’s owner into court. If the court determines the dog is a danger to the public, the judge could order any number of restrictions.

Early steps include making sure the dog is licensed, has been vaccinated and is free of rabies. Stiffer regulations could include ordering the dog to be kept on a leash, muzzled, or caged.

If the dog attacks and injures someone, the law provides for it to be put down. The owner would be charged with a felony.

In fact, if an owner doesn’t comply with a court order, no matter what types of restrictions are called for, then the individual would also be cited for a felony.

“The law makes owners responsible for their dogs,” McCann says. “I’m working with people in the business who see a problem they can’t do anything about now because something hasn’t happened yet, like a bite.”

Besides animal control officers, the law would help letter carriers and utility workers—two groups of workers that also frequently face harassment from dogs.

Frivolous complaints, such as from vindictive neighbors, would presumably be thrown out at the discretion of the judge.

Dog owners should take responsibility for controlling their pets. For those who don’t, these additional regulations could help prevent dangerous dogs from harming an innocent victim.