Dog Owners Could Face Jail for Pet’s Bad Behavior Under Proposed City Law

| by Phyllis M Daugherty

The Flint, Michigan, City Council is moving quickly toward a new vicious dog ordinance that could go a long way in creating responsible dog ownership. City leaders want to hold dog owners responsible for their pet's actions and the penalties are tough.

"What this is, is an owner responsibility (proposal)," said Flint Councilman Sheldon Neeley, who introduced the amendment to the city's vicious dog ordinance.

"We came to the conclusion that it's not so much the canine (that's the problem) as it is the owner," Neeley said. "We can't arrest a dog, but we can arrest a person."

The proposed ordinance amendment says vicious dogs have become a serious and widespread problem in the city, attacking without provocation and seriously injuring innocent people, including children.

City Council members and the local humane society agree that the time for merely talking about responsible ownership is over.

In the past, the dogs have been blamed and received penalties and restrictions. That has not stopped the attacks on humans and animals and has lead to the conclusion by many—including victims--that “irresponsible dog owners” have been getting a pass for far too long.

“We feel people should be responsible for their pets, even if it's a rabbit,” says Dawn Johnson, executive director of The Humane Society of Genesee County.

If approved by the City Council, a dog owner in Flint could face 90 days behind bars and a $500 fine if his/her dog attacks a person or another animal.

Exceptions to the law would include any instance in which a person is trespassing on the property of the dog's owner or if the dog that bites or attacks was provoked or tormented.

“This is more of a responsibility-type ordinance to make sure people take care of and keep their animals under control,” says Richard Angelo, an attorney who helped draft the ordinance.

As recently as March 6, a Flint resident was hospitalized after sustaining puncture wounds when she was attacked by two dogs while walking her pet down Avenue A around 9:30 a.m. She told police the two dogs—a light-colored pit bull and a smaller dog--attacked her and her dog, leaving serious puncture wounds on her leg and arm. The degree of injury to her dog was not described. She was taken to Hurley Medical Center for treatment of her wounds.

In a separate incident soon afterward, another woman was attacked by a stray dog outside her home, according to police.


The amended vicious dog ordinance is far different from the original proposal Neeley introduced late last year that would have forced owners of pit bulls -- but not other breeds -- to register their dogs with police and also called for pit bull owners to be subject to up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $500 if their dogs attack.

Neeley also dropped a proposed registration fee that had been part of that initial plan.

The Councilman said the changes resulted from collaborative efforts between himself and local animal advocates, including Philip Hogendyk of Bruised But Not Broken Canine Rescue. Hogendyk went from protesting the proposed ordinance amendment to urging City Council to approve it.

"There is a serious dog problem in Flint," said Hogensyk, but the issues aren't limited to a single breed.

The city council has voted to move the ordinance forward for a second reading. They could vote on this proposal as early as the next city council meeting.