So says city councilmember Jen Eyer, who spearheaded a September amendment to Ann Arbor’s animal ordinance that broadened its definitions of dangerous and vicious animals. The ordinance already provided fines up to $500 for owners whose pets injure or repeatedly attack people; now the penalties can include up to ninety days in jail and also apply if they injure or repeatedly attack other animals.
Eyer says the impetus came from two incidents in lower Burns Park of dogs acting aggressively with other dogs. In one instance, she says, the owners of the other dog were terrified, but they had no recourse. Now, she says, when there’s a pattern of aggressive behavior toward other animals, authorities can step in “to protect the safety and well-being of the neighborhood.”
“This will give responsible dog owners a tool to protect themselves and their pets,” says mayor Christopher Taylor, who supported the initiative. He says he and Eyer worked with the Humane Society of Huron Valley to develop the amendment; at the group’s urging, it also forbids labeling an animal as dangerous solely because “of its breed or perceived breed.”
“I think it’s great,” says Virginia Simon, whose leashed poodle was once the victim of a vicious attack—if the police enforce it and “people take it seriously.”
Barb McMullen says she’s fortunate that her dog hasn’t been injured, though she’s witnessed other dogs getting attacked. “I’d rather see changes to how animal control enforcement is done,” she says—starting with enforcing the ordinance’s long-standing requirement that animals be leashed at all times. “If we can avoid more injuries [by prioritizing leash-law violations], I would hope this ordinance change would be largely unnecessary.” Jacqueline Kuehn, whose dog was attacked by dogs two different times at the Swift Run dog park, agrees.
Tanya Hilgendorf, CEO of the Humane Society of Huron Valley, said that “dangerous dog ordinances should be comprehensive and include attacks on other dogs. The council did the right thing by adding that language.” But she acknowledges that is just the first step. “Wording changes alone won’t have much impact on behavior without public education and enforcement,” she said, adding, “residents who want to see better education and enforcement . . . will certainly want to keep talking to their elected officials. As always, the squeaky wheel gets the oil.”
Yet others say their complaints about off-leash activity have been ignored. As the Observer recently reported (“Unleashed,” August), a run-in between leashed and unleashed dogs in Burns Park last spring revealed deep divisions between owners who want to exercise their pets off-leash and those who want the law enforced. Paul Ward, whose social media post about a frightening encounter with off-leash dogs inspired hundreds of vitriolic comments, points to remarks by an Ann Arbor police officer in that article indicating they weren’t going to enforce the leash law. “We’re getting close to the definition of insanity,” Ward says, “trying the same thing over and over and hoping for a different effect. It’s just a big joke!”
Carrie Cosola, an Ann Arbor vet, believes the change provides necessary recourse for those whose dogs have been attacked. She recalls a client whose six-pound Yorkie was playing on the front lawn with a babysitter and two young kids when a much larger Akita who was on a leash being walked by an older woman ran over and killed the Yorkie. “The dog was killed in front of the babysitter and kids, and there was nothing they could do. They were just out of luck.”
She thinks the change is a step in the right direction. But she finds some of the wording about dogs who are provoked to be vague: with dogs, “there’s always provocation,” she says.
She wonders if there will end up being violations for dogs that act aggressively but are just wanting to play or against dogs who bark but are behind an invisible fence. “My fear is that it’s a slippery slope,” she said. “Are they going to be considered aggressive when they’re just particularly territorial or trying to initiate play?”
While Ward is concerned that council was silent on enforcing the leash law, Cosola would like to see it changed to allow dogs to roam off-leash, perhaps by setting aside early morning hours for them to do so at city parks.
That, she says, “would be a great thing. But it doesn’t have anything to do with this.”