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DeKalb City Council favors tougher dog law

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

DeKALB – Aldermen on the DeKalb City Council reacted positively to a proposal that would strengthen the city’s dog laws.

“Dog owners need to take responsibility for their dog,” 4th Ward Alderman Brendon Gallagher said. “You should be able to feel safe walking your dog in any neighborhood, and if they can’t maintain a fence or maintain a leash to keep their dog [under] control, then we need to toughen up these laws.”

The ordinance would create an intermediate approach to handling dogs that bite a person or another animal. If a dog does so, its owner would be fined at least $500, in addition to paying for out-of-pocket expenses for any injury or damage caused by their dog.

If the dog attack is serious enough, the case could be referred to the state’s attorney’s office, which could seek to have the offending dog impounded or destroyed. City Attorney Dean Frieders said this already exists in state law, but the city would be “directly recognizing it.”

Gallagher expressed sympathy for DeKalb resident Doris Sernovitz, who attended Monday’s meeting.

Sernovitz was walking her dog when they were attacked by a neighbor’s pit bull. The pit bull killed Sernovitz’s dog.

“I’m afraid to really walk in my neighborhood and if after this dog attacked my friend’s dog, if they had been made to put up a sign that said ‘vicious dog,’ I wouldn’t have walked down that block with my dog,” Sernovitz told the council.

Sernovitz advocated requiring owners of vicious dogs to post signs on their property to notify passers-by. She said if owners are uncomfortable with that, the dog should be euthanized.

Frieders said the city had considered breed-specific legislation. Illinois law prohibits municipalities from enacting this kind of legislation, but there is nothing preventing home-rule communities such as DeKalb from doing so.

“That terminology becomes a code word for banning pit bulls,” Frieders said. “There has been a significant amount of litigation on it. I can tell you that the conservative and well-reasoned approach would be to not pursue breed-specific legislation at this time.”

Another supporter, 2nd Ward Alderman Tom Teresinski, asked what other communities do concerning dog attacks. Frieders noted that there is a lack of consistency and detail across communities in this area.

Third Ward Alderwoman Kristen Lash said she supported the effort, but wondered if the penalties and restrictions could be spelled out more. Frieders replied that any more language would conflict with state law, which he described as being well-written and inclusive.

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