By LINDA LOBECK
IRON MOUNTAIN - After much discussion during the past two months, Iron Mountain City Council approved an amended ordinance dealing with the regulation of vicious dogs.
The language added to the ordinance follows state law where a dog is considered for euthanasia when it causes a serious injury to a person.
The previous ordinance didn't allow for much discretion by officials when a dog bite occurred other than putting the dog down.
A public hearing at Monday's meeting and with council approval, the amended ordinance will take effect within 30 days.
Councilman Dale Alessandrini still had a question as to how the dog officer determines if an attack causes a serious injury.
City Attorney Gerry Pirkola said that only gives the dog officer the power to confiscate a dog if a serious injury occurs. There are still other options available to the dog owner including the appeal process.
Newly seated Councilman Bill Revord said that the new language in the ordinance states that this action is based on the facts of the incident being investigated, the continued threat that the dog is to people, and whether the victim of the attack needed medical attention.
Pirkola agreed that the seriousness of the injury is determined, for example whether the bite resulted in the skin being broken and the injury being serious to warrant medical attention.
"All this information is used to decide whether to take the extreme remedy of putting a dog down. This decision is based on the investigating officer's report, which goes to the prosecutor level and then to the judge level. We've taken the language from the state ordinance and used the same language here, which offers three levels of review after an incident is reported," Pirkola said.
Council person Amanda List, who was also seated at Monday's meeting, asked what the owner's responsibility is in such an incident.
"It's not necessarily that the dog is vicious, but the owner's lack of responsibility," List said. "There should be sanctions against dog owners who do this."
Mayor Bruce Rosen agreed noting that there are fines that are levied against the owner in such a situation with different fines when a dog bites a human or another animal.
Pirkola added that there is also the civil liability on the owner in these situations.
Under public comment, Diane Luczak of Breitung Township, the manager of the Almost Home Animal Shelter, wanted to know what or who qualifies as a dog officer under the ordinance.
Pirkola said that this is any investigating officer, which can be the police, a conservation officer, someone from the sheriff's department - not one specific person.
"It's anyone who has the authority to investigate the incident," Pirkola said. "They are trained to investigate all types of offenses."
"I disagree. The officer that met Roxie after that incident - his one time - and he deems her vicious. I have had her for five months (at Almost Home Animal Shelter) and haven't seen any viciousness," Luczak said.
Pirkola said that the officers looked at that incident and why they were called there after the dog bite was reported.
"They came to investigate and calculate in all the different factors. They presented a report based on the facts. Now with the changes in the ordinance, the judge has more discretion in deciding what will happen next. We have built in some discretion into the ordinance and each case is judged on the facts," Pirkola said.
Emily Ritsema of Iron Mountain asked the council where, on the city website, was a copy of the amended ordinance being discussed. She said she was looking for it in order to be able to make a comment at the meeting.
City Manager Jordan Stanchina said that the public hearing is advertised and copies of the ordinance are made available when requested at city hall.
Ritsema also noted that the police officers doing the investigation into the incidents are not trained to deal with animals.
Scott Ritsema of Iron Mountain noted that he works as a police officer and has 16 years in working with police dogs.
"Officers don't know how to read a dog," Ritsema said. "Police officers are just people and some are afraid of dogs no matter whether they are big or small. I think determining if its vicious is a big gray spot in this ordinance."
Linda Lobeck's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.