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updated: 1/28/2013 6:07 PM

New Lake County rules define 'aggressive' dogs

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Lake County regulations now include a new definition for dogs that attack other animals and allows authorities to immediately remove the dog while an investigation is conducted.

The category of "animal-aggressive" in the Animal Care and Control ordinance describes a dog that without justification causes serious injury or death to another owned animal, and the change provides a clear direction of the steps that ensue.

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"It gives us the authority to impound the animal during an investigation," said Mark Pfister, population health services director for the Lake County Health Department. County regulations, which cover unincorporated areas, had requirements for dangerous or vicious dogs that attacked people or other animals, but didn't have strong rules for dogs that seriously injured or killed another owned animal, officials said.

Under the addition to the rules recently approved by the Lake County Board, the health department can impound a dog that is being investigated if the victim animal is seriously injured or killed while the disposition is determined.

"The county is very good about following procedures and doing things but there was nothing in place," said Diane Hewitt, a Lake County Board member from Waukegan, whose 15-pound Bichon-Maltese "Cindy" was seriously injured last February after being attacked in the front yard by a dog that jumped the fence.

"There's so many things happening with irresponsible pet owners," Hewitt said. "It's something that needed to be addressed."

Pfister said he didn't think the general public was aware there are 2,000 reports of animals bites each year in Lake County.

"About 30 percent are domestic animal to domestic animal," he said. About 50 of those result in what are considered serious injuries and about 15 each year result in the death of the victimized animal, he said.

The new provisions in the health department's ordinance define an animal-aggressive dog and outline the steps to be taken in conducting the investigation and the options available to the dog's owner.

Pfister said the department always had authority to investigate an animal-to-animal bite and the ability to declare an animal dangerous and potentially require a muzzle while in public areas, for example, but could not impound the animal.

A dog can be considered "animal-aggressive" if there is "clear and convincing" evidence the dog caused the injury or death without justification. Based on the severity of the attack and/or previous history, the dog could face various outcomes including being held in an enclosure or being euthanized.

The dog's action could be considered justified if the injured or killed animal was attacking or threatening to attack the dog or its offspring, if the dog was responding to pain or injury, or the dog was protecting itself, its owner or a member of the household or its offspring, according to the addition to the regulations.

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