License owners, not dogs? Alderman wants to tighten leash

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Nala, an Australian cattle dog/blue healer mix, is sweet, loving anddevoted. She is gentle, affectionate and great with kids and other dogs.Tender Loving Care Animal Shelter

Chicago should seriously consider licensing dog owners to prevent a repeat of the vicious lakefront attack by a pair of pit bulls that cost a 62-year-old his left foot, an alderman said Wednesday.

At the moment, the resolution co-sponsored by Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) simply calls for City Council hearings to take testimony from experts and “make recommendations for legislation to reduce the number of animal attacks.”

But, it also notes that the City Council tightened the regulatory leash – and increased penalties on negligent dog owners – after exhaustive hearings in 2007 that specifically rejected calls for a breed-specific ban.

“Any further regulation should continue to be not breed-specific, but owner/handler specific, such as licensing the owner rather than the animal,” the resolution states.

After introducing the resolution at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Fioretti said he’s dead-serious about the idea of licensing dog owners at a time when the city is gearing up to launch its first-ever crackdown on the owners of unlicensed dogs.

“That way, we keep track of how many dogs the owner has. It’s a suggestion that will be part of the hearings,” he said.

Fioretti said a dog owners’ license could be issued by the city clerk’s office or the Department of Revenue, recently merged with the city comptroller’s office.

Asked what the criteria would be for determining a qualified owner, he said, “We would set up some kind of accountability. It is still to be determined.”

The alderman also raised the possibility of resurrecting a stalled ordinance that would require the owners to spay or neuter virtually all dogs and cats older than six months.

The last time the City Council considered that mandate it stirred passions on both sides. A 3 1/2-hour hearing barely made a dent in the 134 witnesses who had signed up to testify.

“We have to look at [mandatory] spay and neutering. It’s been proven that unneutered dogs are involved in more of these types of incidents – not because of inherent aggression, but a propensity to roam,” Fioretti said.

City Clerk Susana Mendoza, who co-sponsored the demand for City Council hearings, issued a press release that made no mention of licensing dog owners.

She simply said, “We do not feel that any legislation should be dog-breed specific, but instead focused on responsible dog ownership.”

Cherie Travis serves as executive director of the city’s Commission on Animal Care and Control, which received nearly 2,000 reports of dog bites in 2011.

Travis was taken aback by the suggestion that dog owners be licensed, but she did not dismiss the idea.

“It’s novel. But, I’d have to know more about how it would work. Who would issue the license? What would the criteria be? What would qualify people to be licensed as dog owners?” Travis said.

“In Minneapolis, there’s an ordinance that, if your dog has bitten someone, you can’t get another dog for five years. I’m certainly open to discussing best practices.”

She added, “One of the things I’d be interested in seeing is better identification of dogs so we can identify owners, through micro-chipping and increasing regulations.”

On Jan. 2, Joseph Finley was on his normal pre-dawn jog near Rainbow Beach Park when he spotted a pair of pit bulls blocking his path.

Finley, 62, ended up losing his left foot in the attack and was lucky to survive. Still hospitalized, Finley told reporters earlier this week that the dogs were “gnawing at my body like I was hamburger.”

Police say it was a heads-up neighbor who got to the dogs first, beating them with a baseball bat before police arrived and shot the dogs.

The dogs’ owner has been cited for not properly restraining the dogs and for not having a license. No criminal charges have been filed.

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