By NIKKI YOUNK
IRON MOUNTAIN - The case of a dog scheduled to be euthanized for biting a person has local supporters calling for changes to Iron Mountain's vicious dogs ordinance.
Vicki Tavonatti of Iron Mountain visits with her dog Roxy at the Almost Home Animal Shelter in Quinnesec. Roxy is scheduled to be euthanized for violating Iron Mountain’s vicious dogs ordinance by biting a woman in July.
Roxy, a two-year-old pit bull, boxer, and shepherd mix, bit a woman on July 12 while tied to a leash outside her home on West Ludington Street.
According to the Iron Mountain Police Department report on the incident, the victim, who is only identified as a woman from out of state, had stepped out of her mother's house to smoke a cigarette. While walking down the alleyway, she was startled by a dog that started barking at her.
The victim told police that the dog was leashed, but the leash allowed the dog to come well into the alleyway.
Although the victim backed up, the dog was able to bite her in the calf area of her left leg. The bite broke the victim's skin and drew blood, the report states.
The victim then went to Dickinson County Memorial Hospital's emergency department for treatment of her wound.
According to the report, the victim told police that she did not want to pursue criminal charges, but she did want to know if the dog had been vaccinated for rabies.
When Iron Mountain police officers arrived on scene later to investigate, they described the dog as "barking aggressively and snapping its teeth." They also noticed that the dog's leash allowed it to reach the center of the alleyway, and possibly even past the center.
Officers were unsure if they could exit their vehicle safely.
"We both felt that if the dog was not tied to a rope that deadly force would have to be used on the dog to protect officers and the public," one of the officers reported. "Since the dog was tied to a rope, I held my TASER in the ready with the safety in the off position on the dog."
Officers then made contact with the dog's owner Vicki Tavonatti. Tavonatti told them that she was unaware that her dog Roxy had bit anyone, and that she had never seen Roxy act that way before.
While returning to the patrol vehicle, one of the officers had another incident with Roxy.
"The dog lunged out at me snapping its teeth while barking and snarling," the officer reported. "I quickly moved out of the alley into a neighboring yard as the dog ran after me."
Officers had Tavonatti bring Roxy inside and lock her in the bedroom while they completed their investigation. They told Tavonatti that she would be required to sign an agreement to confine the dog for a period of 10 days.
Overall, officers concluded that Roxy was indeed vicious.
"The residence where this incident occurred is in close proximity to the Iron Mountain school," said one of the officers. "It is clear to me, after seeing this dog and its overly aggressive actions toward me, that for the safety of the public, this dog should be ordered to be removed from the city of Iron Mountain."
Iron Mountain's vicious dog ordinance, which has been in effect since Dec. 19, 2005, defines a vicious dog as one that threatens the safety of human beings or domestic animals, that is capable of inflicting serious physical harm or death to human beings, that attacks or bites without provocation, or that is owned for the purpose of dog fighting.
Dogs shall not be declared vicious if they cause injury to a person who trespasses on private property or who was teasing, tormenting, abusing, or assaulting the dog at the time of the attack.
The ordinance allows police to "confiscate and destroy" any vicious dog that, while unprovoked, attacks, wounds, or kills a human being or a domestic animal.
In biting the woman on July 12, Roxy was in violation of the ordinance, the city determined.
One of the city of Iron Mountain's attorneys, Michael Celello, explained that Roxy's euthanasia has been postponed for several months because she was pregnant at the time of the bite incident.
Roxy was scheduled to be put down after she gave birth and her puppies were weaned. In the meantime, she is being housed at the Almost Home Animal Shelter in Quinnesec.
The anticipated date of euthanasia is Oct. 14.
Tavonatti said that this whole situation has been devastating for her. She regularly visits the shelter in order to spend time with Roxy.
"I have so much fun with her," said Tavonatti. "I just want my family back."
In the past few weeks, Roxy's story has made its way to other people in the community.
Emily Ritsema of Breitung Township first heard about Roxy while attending the shelter's dog show at the Dickinson County Fair over Labor Day weekend. A shelter volunteer had wanted to talk with Ritsema's husband, who is a former canine handler for the Michigan State Police, about Roxy and get his assessment of her.
Roxy's situation touched Ritsema, who has a passion for helping animals. She noted that she owns four rescue dogs - one from a hoarding situation and three strays.
Ritsema pointed out that Roxy's aggression on July 12 was likely situational - for example, Roxy was pregnant and it was a hot day. She noted that Roxy has not shown any aggression whatsoever while at the shelter.
The problem, Ritsema feels, is that Iron Mountain's vicious dog ordinance does not allow for any discretion.
"The way the Iron Mountain city ordinance is written right now, if I have my four-pound chihuahua in my arms and she bites your finger while you're feeding her a treat, she could be ordered euthanized, since she was unprovoked," she said. "Having a zero tolerance policy is ridiculous."
On Sept. 24, Ritsema started a petition on change.org in hopes of saving Roxy's life. In just a week and a half, the petition has gained approximately 6,000 signatures from all over the world.
"The majority of the signatures from the U.S. come from Michigan, with all local communities in the Upper Peninsula represented," said Ritsema.
Although there is a lot of local support for Roxy, there are also signatures from people in every U.S. state and 85 different countries.
Ritsema said that her next steps are to seek legal assistance and to go to the Iron Mountain City Council's next meeting on Monday to voice her concerns.
Aside from saving Roxy, Ritsema hopes to change the city's ordinance and to recommend that officers have the best training possible on how to approach dogs.
She and other supporters have suggested that the city could establish a board to review each dog bite incident on a case-by-case basis or employ the services of an animal evaluator.
Iron Mountain City Manager Jordan Stanchina confirmed that the dog ordinance will be on the council's Monday meeting agenda. However, he said that they will not be discussing Roxy's specific case, only the ordinance as a whole.
"We will be discussing the ordinance to see if it warrants any changes," said Stanchina.
Roxy's case is not the only recent violation of Iron Mountain's vicious dogs ordinance. According to Celello, there have been three other known violations in the past three months.
"If someone doesn't make a complaint, we don't know about it," he said.
Of the four total cases, three involved a dog biting a human. The fourth case involved a dog attacking and injuring another dog so badly that it had to be euthanized.
Celello believed that two of the four dogs in violation of the ordinance have already been put down. The other case besides Roxy's is pending, he said.
Celello added that he believed the three dogs besides Roxy were all Labradors.
Nikki Younk's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.