Pit bulls are illegal in Lakewood, along with other dogs that are deemed dangerous.
That legislation passed nearly two years ago after some heated debate and a divided city.
On Monday, council brought up the issue again — but this time to clarify the language in the ordinance.
Specifically, the legislation before council seeks to outline the appeals process and the obligations of the city — as well as the rights and obligations of dog owners.
The ban, passed in 2008, required residents at that time who owned pit pulls and canary dogs to register the animals, carry special insurance and implant a microchip in the dogs.
The ordinance also ruled that no new pit bulls could live in the city.
“This is a house-cleaning issue,” said Kevin Butler, the city’s law director, of the proposed ordinance before council. “The intention is to firm up the due process procedure on the hearings for dangerous dogs."
Here’s how the law works: Once the city learns that a dog may be a pit bull — or a canary dog — the animal control officer responds and takes photos of the dog in question for further examination. If the division of animal control determines the dog is a pit bull, the owner has 40 days to get rid of the dog.
The dog owner can file an appeal, but must prove — by way of a blood-drawn DNA test — that the animal is less than 50 percent of the breed in question.
“The existing ordinance does all that, it’s just less clear,” Butler said. “We wanted to make sure everyone is 100 percent clear on the process.”
Butler said there have been only a “small number” of pit bulls reported and removed from the city since 2008.
Recently, two families filed a federal lawsuit challenging the legality of the city’s ban. According to LoveLakewood.com, the suit claims a pre-existing set of state laws governing vicious dogs supersedes and voids the city’s laws.
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The suit accuses the city of using arbitrary methods to identify dangerous dogs and of having an unfair appeals process.
Plaintiffs Kevin and Nicole Tarquinio are seeking compensation for the emotional injury and financial losses they claim to have suffered as a result of the city’s actions. Kevin Tarquinio also claims to have experienced “a great deal of undue emotional stress which has resulted in physical injury.”
There is also another case represented by the same attorney. Both cases are pending.
“We don’t want to take people’s property without giving them due process,” Butler said. “I am not suggesting we haven’t done that in the past, but the law as it’s written is somewhat unclear.”
Butler, who was a city councilman at the time of the ordinance in 2008, said it was among the “most contentious series of meetings” during his time on council.
“My aim is not to rewrite the ban, it’s to actually ensure going forward that the process is fair.”
Butler acknowledged that the issue may generate some heated discussion, as it did in 2008.
“People are very passionate about animals,” he said. “It leads to a passionate debate.”
Council moved referred the legislation to the public safety committee for further discussion.
“The proposed legislation is to make the vicious dog ordinance more clear,” said council president Mary Louise Madigan, who voted against the ordinance in 2008. “We’ll take it apart, we’ll put it back together and see what council thinks.”