Dangerous animal ordinance not perfect yet

There are any number of philosophical and principled debates in which people can engage in regard to the City of Minot’s proposed dangerous animal ordinance. The same would be true whether the currently proposed plan is passed or not.

However, as currently construed, the proposed ordinance simply has too many important vague points and establishes a system that would make it very easy to harass pet owners.

Under the new language, owners would not be able to keep an animal in city limits that:

– when unprovoked, bites, claws or otherwise harms a human or domestic animal on public or private property.

– when unprovoked, chases or approaches a person, including a person on a bicycle, upon the streets, sidewalks or any public or private property other than the owner’s property, in an apparent attitude of attack.

– when unprovoked, kills a domestic animal while off the owner’s property.

– has been designated as a dangerous animal by another jurisdiction.

The latter two seem logical. However, what about the other two points? Take No. 1. Who defines “provoked”? What kind of witnesses are required? No. 2 requires an even more insightful animal mind reader in use of the language “in an apparent attitude of attack.” Apparent to whom? There are individuals who are going to feel threatened even by breeds of dogs that according to a little outfit called the federal government have virtually zero chance of ever biting or otherwise harming a human being. The feds release the list every year.

It seems like someone who doesn’t like his neighbor has ample opportunity to use the ordinance for harassment. This is even more true with the “destructive and annoying” component of the ordinance which creates a suitcase full of means by which to harass animal owners. One example: an animal that “makes loud and frequent noise that annoys, under a reasonable person’s standard, any person not on the property of its owner.”

Who gets to be the arbiter of “a reasonable person’s standard?” One neighbor? A majority of neighbors? An agent of government? In the absence of objective standards, there is a perfect situation for selective enforcement. And it is naive to believe that there are not people who would use these regulations to harass some animal owners.

Finally, the ordinance empowers the courts to order an animal owner to euthanize an animal, the morality of which, depending on circumstances, is sure to make some uncomfortable at least.

Minot Daily News has avoided taking an intractable position on the city’s attempt to rein in dangerous and nuisance animals, preferring to let residents and the city to work the issue out between them. While this remains the case, MDN continues to have questions about whether or not in an effort to be comprehensive, Minot might not be going too far.

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