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DeKalb could add teeth to dog bite law

DeKALB – The DeKalb City Council will consider a proposal to upgrade the city’s ordinances on dog attacks in the coming weeks.

The proposal specifically outlaws a dog attacking people, dogs or other animals. Under the proposal, the owner of a dog that attacks or attempts to attack would be fined at least $500. City Manager Mark Biernacki described the ordinance as being a sliding scale.

“Penalties and so forth would increase depending on the severity of the dog-running-at-large issue,” Biernacki said.

The City Council will discuss the proposal at their committee-of-the-whole meeting at 6 p.m. Monday.

Severe attacks or egregious behavior would have the case referred to the DeKalb County State’s Attorney, who can prosecute the dog as a dangerous or vicious animal. These two designations have their own sets rules and prohibitions under the Illinois Animal Control Act.

The owner of an attacking dog would have to pay restitution for out-of-pocket expenses for any injury or damage caused by the dog.

The owner of a dog found off-leash while not on the owner’s property could be fined between $100 and $500. A lighter fine would only be levied if the dog does not harm other people or animals.

Currently, there is no “middle ground” in the city ordinance on dog bites, Police Chief Gene Lowery said in a previous interview. The ordinance also does not address dogs that attack other dogs. In 2011, Lowery said the police department received 75 barking dog complaints, 33 dog bite complaints and 229 dog-running-at-large complaints.

In September, the Daily Chronicle profiled Doris Sernovitz, a woman whose dog was attacked and killed by a neighbor’s dog when it escaped from its backyard. The offending dog was later euthanized at the owner’s discretion.

Sernovitz said she thinks any ordinance concerning dog attacks should address euthanasia for vicious dogs. If the dog is not euthanized, then a sign stating that a vicious dog lives on the property should be posted.

“If a dog mauls someone or kills another animal, I think the dog should be put down,” Sernovitz said.

Illinois law prohibits breed-specific legislation, but home rule cities like DeKalb could pass such an ordinance. However, city documents state that such ordinances have “significant concerns about the practicality and enforceability of breed-specific laws.”

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