Queen Creek Town Council is considering altering the definition of a vicious animal as one that bites, scratches or otherwise inflicts injury on a human being --- and adding “or animal” --- plus prohibiting them in town dog parks if without a leash.
“We’ve had some recent instances in the not-too-distant past where we had a couple animals attack another animal; I believe, to one extent, actually killing the other animal,” Interim Planning Administrator Erik Swanson said at a recent Town Council meeting. “We’ve also had an instance in one of our dog parks where an animal has been vicious toward other animals and it attacked them.”
Town staff members asked the council to amend the definition of vicious animals and to define a vicious animal as one that not only attacks a human being but also an animal. A separate subsection would be amended to prohibit animals determined to be vicious to be allowed in dog parks without a leash.
“Really what this does is clarify that the current code only addresses vicious animals when they attack a human being,” Mr. Swanson said.
Queen Creek resident Robert Milk supports the changes in the animal ordinance regarding vicious animals, but prefers that they not be allowed at dog parks. He speaks from experience --- his family dog was killed earlier this year by three pit bulls.
He told the council Aug. 5 of his wife, Peggy, taking their leashed 20-pound schnauzer Jax on a walk Jan. 25 at South 211th Street near Pickett Street.
“As they got to Pickett Street, three pit bulls jumped them, killing Jax, shredding him so bad that animal control could not even identify the breed. Peggy had torn ligaments in her leg, bruises and scratches; they did not bite her, so the way the ordinance is presently written, those dogs are not vicious,” he said.
“The owner pleaded guilty in court. Do you know what the result was? Twenty-four hours of community service and a $91 fine. His dogs were returned to him. We don’t have a dog. We’re very depressed over this and we believe that we need to strengthen the ordinance on this,” Mr. Milk said. “I, myself, as far as a dog park, any dog that is vicious should not be there at all --- leashed or unleashed.”
Councilmember Jeff Brown said he hoped all seven on the council would support making the change concerning vicious animals.
“I feel that it’s incumbent upon us --- as much as I loath adding additional regulation --- I feel that we are not necessarily adding a new regulation, we’re simply rightsizing one that’s on the books already. And so I’m hopeful that all will support it this evening so that the vicious dog is the one that not only attacks a human, but also destroys another animal, such as what occurred to the Milk couple,” he said.
Councilman Jake Hoffman asked town staff members what enforcement is attached with the change.
Animal control or the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is called, Interim Planning Administrator Swanson said.
“So they’ll come out, look at it and enforce what the situation is. In this case, as it currently exists, if there is no harm being done to a human --- the way that the current code is written --- then there’s no issue. They can take the animals. They can hold them and have licenses checked and things like that, like we had in a similar situation, but there is no true citation,” he said. “So, in adopting the proposed amendments, this gives the option to have the animal certified as vicious and then citations can be issued, and then extending penalties.”
“Vicious animal” in the town code is defined as any animal other than an animal used by law enforcement agency, that:
Councilman Hoffman questioned why the recent dog incident is being used as a catalyst for the change if the victim was scratched in the incident.
“(T)hat was a failure to enforce our current code, which applied to the situation as it’s been described and as he states it was described in the MCSO report, as a failure to enforce our code correctly. And so now you’re asking us to come in and expand the code to create new law or an expansion of law that, quite frankly, isn’t justified by the current situation,” he said. “The reality is ... based on the catalyst situation which staff is using, our current code was more than adequate to address it. We simply failed to use our current code to its fullest extent.”
Vice Mayor Julia Wheatley said she agrees an injury was inflicted on Mrs. Milk that falls under the present ordinance that could be enforced.
“I see this a little differently. I agree that this situation falls under what we have. I do think we can take it a step further because it is terribly unfortunate when this happens and this is just allowing us to enforce when, in this example, if your wife had been hurt or not, because the bills are ridiculously expensive and I imagine there would have to be a citation issued before residents could take bills before a judge,” she said.
Also, requiring vicious animals to be leashed in town dog parks is not unreasonable, Vice Mayor Wheatley said.
The Town Council on Aug. 5 voted 4-3 to table the discussion on changing the town code concerning vicious animals and bring it back at the Aug. 19 meeting, with Councilmembers Robin Benning, Mr. Brown and Dawn Oliphant voting no. On the dais were Mayor Gail Barney, Vice Mayor Wheatley and Councilmembers Mr. Hoffman and Emilena Turley. Meeting by WebEx were Mr. Benning, Mr. Brown and Ms. Oliphant.
“This one I’m going to force staff’s hands and we’re going to have them come back in two weeks. So staff, get ready to do some homework,” Councilman Hoffman said of his motion.
Before it passed, two other motions failed, 4-3.
The council first voted to table the item and send it back to town staff for refinement, but without a specific date to be returned to the Town Council. It failed 4-3, with Mayor Barney and Mr. Brown, Mr.Benning and Ms. Oliphant voting no. Mayor Barney later said he had not intended to vote against tabling the discussion.
The council then voted on a motion to decriminalize an animal attacking an animal as part of the text amendment, which also failed 4-3, with Mayor Barney and Mr. Brown, Mr. Benning and Ms. Oliphant voting no.
“I understand the thinking there, but the reality is that decriminalizing it makes it potentially worse than what it is today in that we’re saying we simply don’t trust the system at all --- we don’t trust the animal control folks, we don’t trust the justice of the peaces or the magistrates, etc., and I just reject that,” Councilmember Brown said before the vote.
“Jeff, I don’t trust that system because that system failed the gentleman who spoke in our auditorium here, who spoke in Community Chambers. The system failed him. The dog hurt his wife and they did not get justice, they did not get what should have happened,” Councilman Hoffman said before the vote.