Council goes after irresponsible dog owners

Times-Herald Newspapers

Residents of Dearborn and Dearborn Heights communities are up in arms with discussions about animal safety, specifically regarding vicious dogs.

There have been multiple instances in the area this year of dogs attacking people. It happened in nearby Allen Park and Lincoln Park during the summer before happening in Dearborn Heights twice in September.

Heights resident Laura Langston’s pit bull terrier got loose in the 24000 block of Colgate on Sept. 25 and attacked a 10-year-old girl. A nearby 75-year-old man got the dog off the girl and was attacked in the process. The girl required 14 stitches to her arms and legs, while the man needed 15 stitches on his leg.

Langston pleaded no contest Nov. 29 to one count of a dangerous animal causing serious injury and is set to be sentenced Dec. 20 before Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Carole Youngblood.

On top of that, Heights resident Eugene Runco’s two pit bulls attacked a woman just two days prior. A preliminary examination of the evidence against him was held Dec. 1 in 20th District Court; he awaits arraignment at 9 a.m. Dec. 15.

He’s charged with two counts of dangerous animals causing serious injury, a four-year felony and two counts of allowing dangerous animals to run at large, a 90-day misdemeanor. Additionally, the dogs were not registered with the city when the attack occurred.

The list of incidents has the Dearborn and Heights city councils talking. Dearborn met with Friends for the Dearborn Animal Shelter and the public Thursday to discuss updating the existing vicious dog ordinance.

“We need to make sure we have a way to protect ourselves,” said Thomas Tafelski, Dearborn City Council president. “The temperament of all dogs is that if they’re provoked or having bad doggy days, (they could attack).”

The council had discussed updating the ordinance to specify a ban on pit bulls, similar to what other cities like Allen Park have done. However, the FDAS stressed that the dogs causing problems could be any breed and that there are plenty of nonviolent pit bulls throughout the area.

“If they don’t have a certain type of dog, they’ll do the same with another dog. You have to get to the root of people who are being irresponsible,” said Sandra Boulton, FDAS public relations director. “It isn’t about the dog, but how its treated. They found that banning a specific dog breed hasn’t helped in other communities.”

City Councilwoman Suzanne Sareini said what came out of the discussion is a two-tier ordinance that is not breed-specific.

“It takes our current vicious dog ordinance and made a two-tier ordinance: dangerous and vicious,” Sareini said. “It’s the behavior we’re after, not a specific breed. We want responsible owners.”

The two tiers of the new ordinance focus on dangerous dogs and vicious dogs, each of which is defined individually.

“What makes it dangerous is if it bites without a purpose, whether it’s a person or another animal,” Sareini said.

The meeting, which spilled out of the conference room as more than 50 people listened from the hallway, featured Best Friend Animal Society attorney Ledy VanKavage, who flew in from St. Louis to speak on behalf of the Utah-based organization.

“It was extremely informative and enlightening. All in all, tonight’s meeting was very successful in that we gained a lot of knowledge,” Sareini said Thursday night. “The Friends of the Dearborn Animal Shelter did a phenomenal job.”

Sareini said the council could have a draft of the new ordinance ready for Monday’s council meeting, and it could be approved after a two-week period to fine-tune the language. Boulton said the FDAS is happy the council went the route of specifying dogs instead of a specific breed.

“Council (chose to), rather than focus on enhancing the existing dangerous law, but focus on dangerous, violent or irresponsible dog owners,” Boulton said. “It was really a draft of the ordinance last night. We’re glad the mayor and council are thorough. To me, it really is a credit to them, instead of dealing with it as a quick fix like other communities.”

The next Dearborn City Council meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at the City Council Chambers at City Hall, 13615 Michigan Ave.

(Contact Chris Jackett at