Joliet residents want changes made to vicious dogs ordinance, enforcement of existing laws

Brock A. Stein | 3/1/2016, 10:42 a.m. | Updated on 3/7/2016, 10:53 a.m.
The City of Joliet plans to revise its laws that deal with vicious dog attacks as well as an agreement ...

Over the past couple of months, Joliet officials have been working on a re-write of the city’s 20-year old ordinance that oversees the handling of vicious dog attacks as well as a new intergovernmental agreement with Joliet Township Animal Control.

The issue is enough of a hot topic that it even got a mention in Mayor Bob O’Dekirk’s state of the city address in January where he called for a city enforcement officer to deal with dog attack cases he said were “falling through the cracks.”

Whatever changes are made can’t come soon enough for Joliet residents, Bob and Doreen Swanson who have been closely following the amendment progress through the city’s committees since their dogs were attacked near their home on N. Reed Street in 2014.

The Swanson’s were the second of three attacks by the same neighbor’s dog. The dog was never taken in to custody, and the owner was fined, but moved out of town without paying.

While the couple feels it’s important that the city update its ordinance they also want to see the current laws enforced said Bob who also sees a “disconnect with Animal Control is a major part of the problem.”

Under the revised language of the law, a dog can be deemed vicious or dangerous after an administrative hearing is held following two separate incidents within a 24-month period.

City of Joliet attorney Martin Shanahan said the enforcement part of the law would be executed through coordination with Joliet Township Animal control.

Shanahan said at a recent land use and legislative committee meeting that the agreement being drafted would take in to consideration calls made regarding vicious dogs.

At issue may be the fact that the current agreement only allows a loose dog to be taken in to custody. In the case of the Swanson’s attack, the dogs, once they returned to their home, were no longer loose.

Council member Jim McFarland, said that more work needs to be done to the agreement before it goes before the city council for approval.

“There’s a gap that’s missing between the attack and the hearing,” he added. “What are we doing to address the owner of an animal who is walking their dog and they’re attacked?,” said McFarland.

“What happens in the meantime?”

The answer to that question is also of interest for Joliet resident, Stewart Warren, whose 9-pound Yorkie, Rally, was attacked in February by a dog that was roaming loose in her neighborhood. Her dog came away from the attack with a collapsed lung, broken rib, and a dislocated shoulder for which he needed surgery.

The result was a $3500 (and climbing) vet bill and for the first time, a feeling of unease walking her dogs in the neighborhood where she has lived since 1997.

“I’m not really afraid of anything…now I’m afraid,” said Warren who said that in addition to the vet bill expense she also has to scramble to find a contractor to install a fence in her front yard.