Ann Arbor updating laws for dog bite cases, expanding bans on animal traps

Leonor Wertheimer

ANN ARBOR, MI — Ann Arbor is updating its city code with new rules around owning dogs and other animals, while putting in place some additional animal protections.

City Council gave initial approval this week to the ordinance changes, which await final adoption Sept. 20.

Mayor Christopher Taylor and Council Member Jen Eyer, D-4th Ward, are co-sponsoring the changes, which follow council’s recent adoption of a new law banning the sale of new animal fur products in the city.

The changes now proposed mainly deal with dog bite cases, but also expand a city ban on animal leg-hold traps to additionally ban body-gripping, conibear and snare traps.

The changes also include $500 penalty provisions and remove animal cruelty provisions because state laws are better equipped to address those offenses, city officials said.

Taylor thanked the city attorney’s office for working on the ordinance changes with the Humane Society of Huron Valley. The issue came to his attention after some negative dog-versus-dog interactions in the city, he said.

“It was brought to our attention that dogs are not protected from other dogs under our ordinance as currently drafted and that that was an omission,” he said. “It’s important that all dog owners maintain control over their pets, and that those pets are not a threat to to anyone, whether they have two or four legs.”

While that was the impetus for looking at the ordinance, the city in collaboration with the Humane Society was able to identify a number of other areas to make meaningful changes, Taylor said, adding he’s delighted to move it forward.

The ordinance changes expand opportunities for beekeeping, allowing those engaged in beekeeping education or research to go above the usual limit of two stands or hives.

Other new sections state no person shall remove or attempt to remove any wild animal from city-owned property or any park unless acting under city or state direction.

To address concerns regarding dogs, the ordinance changes include new definitions of “dangerous” and “vicious” animals.

A “dangerous animal” would be defined as one who has bitten a person “so as to cause visible trauma such as a puncture wound, laceration or other piercing of the skin, or caused broken bones,” or “repeatedly attacked, chased or menaced any person” or damaged another person’s property.

A “vicious animal” would be defined as one who bites or attacks a person causing serious injury or bodily impairment, or repeatedly bites or injures a person or domestic animal. Under the current ordinance city officials want to change, domestic animals are not protected under this section.

The new ordinance language states an animal won’t be considered dangerous solely because of their breed or for biting or attacking a person or another animal who was attacking their owner or family, or for biting or injuring someone who, without justification, provoked them by attacking their young.

Owners of dogs deemed dangerous can be ticketed if their dogs are kept outside not in a pen or kennel sufficient to restrain them and within a perimeter fence. Owners of dangerous animals other than dogs also can be ticketed if not kept indoors.

“Except for owning a vicious dog, a violation of this section shall be a civil infraction, punishable by a fine of not more than $500,” the ordinance states. “A violation of owning a vicious dog shall be a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not more than $500 or by imprisonment for not more than 90 days, or both.”

Council Member Erica Briggs, D-5th Ward, said the changes are important, but she initially had concerns about removing the section stating no person shall torture, torment, cruelly beat, cruelly kill or inflict cruelty upon any animal.

“I just wanted to make sure that for others that might be scrolling through this in the future, if they see us removing that language, they should not be concerned,” she said. “It’s actually a little counterintuitive — by removing that language we’re actually strengthening our ability to enforce these laws because we’re able to rely on state laws for this.”

Council Member Jeff Hayner, D-1st Ward, asked about the section requiring owners to provide their animals with proper food, drink and shelter from the weather.

Michigan law requires domestic animals to be given “sufficient food, water, shelter, sanitary conditions, exercise and veterinary medical attention in order to maintain an animal in a state of good health,” the city attorney’s office said, noting the same law requires water to be suitable for the age and species of animal and made regularly available, but the sufficiency and condition of the water provided is a case-by-case determination by responding animal control officers.

“Sufficient” is poorly defined and left to discretion, Hayner said. He has heard reports of the Humane Society and animal control officers rejecting animal welfare complaints and stating a dog is only entitled to water once a day, he said.

There may be times when an officer responds and leaves, then a dog wraps their leash around a water bowl, flips it and doesn’t have water all day, he said, raising the question of whether the city should try to better define “sufficient.”

Senior Assistant City Attorney John Reiser told council he has spoken with animal control and there’s no minimum daily amount of water required, but different types of animals do need differing amounts of water.

“Even if we were to tweak our ordinance, there’s already a state law on there that we certainly couldn’t conflict with,” he said.


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