Council approves changes to vicious dog ordinance

DEARBORN – The City Council approved changes to strengthen the city’s vicious dog ordinance by a 6-0 vote Jan. 4.

Councilman Robert Abraham was absent.

The changes avoided breed-specific restrictions and focused on owners’ responsibility for their dogs’ behavior. The changes came in response to concerns following several recent incidents in which dogs seriously injured people in southeast Michigan.

In addition to emphasizing that the city requires dogs to be kept on a leash whenever they are not on their owners’ property, the council approved revisions to the animals chapter of the city code.

Following a study session in December, officials developed a two-tier ordinance that is not breed-specific and implements measures that can help decrease instances of dog attacks or threats.

The tiers in the ordinance differentiate between two types of threatening animals — “dangerous” dogs and “vicious” dogs — and specify owner responsibilities in each case. Violations require specific steps to take place and there are penalties for noncompliance.

A dog is deemed dangerous if, when police investigate a reported attack or threat, it is found to “behave in a manner that a reasonable person would believe poses a serious and unjustified imminent threat,” according to ordinance language. Dogs also can be determined to be “dangerous” if they bite a person but do not cause serious injury.

Dogs deemed dangerous will be required to be evaluated by an expert, be spayed or neutered, and have an identification microchip implanted at the owner’s expense. The dog and owner must also go through training.

If officials find that an animal has caused serious physical injury or death to a person, it is deemed “vicious.” According to the ordinance, if a public safety officer “has reasonable cause to believe that a dog is vicious, he or she shall institute proceedings in the 19th District Court requesting the court to conduct a hearing on whether or not the dog should be declared vicious…”

Owners of vicious dogs must license the dog as vicious with the city, obtain insurance for the animal and confine the animal, and put up signage at their home or place of business.

It is also possible under the ordinance for the court to order vicious dogs to be euthanized.

The council had discussed updating the vicious dog ordinance to specify a ban on pit bulls, similar to what other cities have done. However, council members agreed with Friends for the Dearborn Animal Shelter that the dogs causing problems could be any breed.

As a further measure to deter dogs from becoming agitated, the council also approved an ordinance addressing tethering of animals. It requires that animals not be tied up for more than an hour at a time unattended, and for no more than three hours per day total.

A link to Dearborn ordinances is available on the City Clerk’s Office page of