Couple Ticketed Over Too Many Dogs In Douglas Seek Ordinance Change
The Village of Friendliness also embodies the notion of being dog-friendly, but neither Douglas residents nor city officials, by their own admission, know their city’s ordinance regulating dogs.
The topic was discussed at Monday’s council meeting.
“I don’t have children; these (three Shetland Sheepdog Shelties) are my children. It would kill me to have to give them away or put them down,” Douglas resident Penny Vandyke told council during meeting.
The city issued a civil infraction with a $50 charge against her and partner Rob Surina for violating city ordinance 92.02 (under the rubric of “keeping of animals”), an ordinance limiting the number of dogs to two per household.
Ordinance 92.02 was instituted way back in 1969, according to Surina.
The couple, who live in the Wilderness Ridge subdivision, asked the city for an ordinance variance so as to let them keep their three dogs, but Zoning Administrator and Community Development Director Lisa Imus said, “This is not a zoning issue so it doesn’t quality for a variance.”
However, she said the city could choose to amend the existing ordinance. Besides the number of dogs and barking issues, other complaints Imus says she gets from residents across the city includes dog owners that don’t pick up after their dogs as well as feral cats.
The city currently doesn’t have any rules regulating cats, said Imus.
Vandyke and Surina told council Monday they were under the impression Douglas allowed the same number of dogs as neighboring City of Saugatuck - four - information they said they got from an article in the Local Observer newspapers’ January 30, 2015 edition.
In that article, Observer Newspapers erroneously reported Douglas’ ordinance allowed four dogs, information sourced from Saugatuck city officials. The newspaper regrets the misinformation and apologizes for any inconvenience this caused.
On January 26, 2015, Saugatuck City Council approved a move to increase the number of dogs households are allowed from two to four, citing the need to upgrade its policy while enhancing “protections to the public.”
At Monday’s meeting, Douglas officials conceded they too, like Surina and Vandyke previously, did not know what the city’s books said about dogs.
“I had no knowledge whatsoever,” said Douglas Council Member Greg Harvath about the number of dogs the city ordinance allows.
Harvath said that in years past he owned three dogs at one time while serving on city council.
“If the city had come up to me and said I couldn’t have three dogs, I would have freaked out—how do you do that?” he said, adding, “The fact I was on council and had no clue (is concerning).”
While Harvath supports a change to the existing regulation, possibly increasing the number of dogs that could be owned per household, he also wants to provide for rules.
“There are those that, I don’t want to say hoard dogs, but collect (a large number of) dogs. There has to be guidelines.”
Echoing Harvath, Douglas Council Member Kathryn Mooradian noted, “I am all for allowing four dogs as long as there is some regulation.”
While Douglas City Council Member Lisa Greenwood noted, “I’d like to focus less on the number of dogs allowed, and more on nuisances (caused by dogs).”
Council directed Imus to study the regulation of surrounding communities and prepare an amendment draft for the purpose of discussion by next council meeting to be held Tuesday, July 5.
The civil infraction was prompted by neighbor complaints, which Surina and Vandyke said they have tried to appease as much as they can, including putting in an underground fence that sends shocks to the dogs’ collars when they attempt to cross the property line.
Surina and Vandyke have also debarked two of the three dogs, a surgical procedure that involves cutting vocal chord tissue.