What makes a dog a menace? First appeal made under Sturtevant's new vicious animal ordinance

What makes a dog a menace? First appeal made under Sturtevant's new vicious animal ordinance

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STURTEVANT — Sturtevant’s recently revised vicious animal ordinance has led to its first appeal.

Sturtevant resident Dale Swart, a Mount Pleasant police officer, went before the Village Board’s three-member Public Safety Commission on Tuesday to appeal a determination that his male German shepherd Blitz is now classified as a Level 1 threat. That declaration, by Village Humane Officer Tonia Lamster, followed a complaint made by a neighbor of Swart’s, Joe Villalpando, on Nov. 2.

According to the village ordinance, “Level 1 behavior is established if an animal at large is found to menace, chase, display threatening or aggressive behavior or otherwise threaten or endanger the safety of any person.” It is the lowest level under the ordinance. At level 4, a resident would have to get rid of the dog.

Villalpando had been Blitz’ victim almost exactly one year earlier, when the dog got loose and killed Villalpando’s small dog, Samson. That incident led to many months of Village Board discussions and, in early August, the board adopted a much tougher dangerous animal ordinance.

However, the most recent incident was not an attack, according to the police report Lamster made on Nov. 2 after Villalpando’s complaint.

Lamster’s report indicates that Villalpando told her that Swart had just pulled up outside his home and let his unleashed dogs out of his vehicle.

Lamster wrote that Villalpando said Blitz charged him as he stood outside his own residence in the 2900 block of 87th Street, which is close to Swart’s home. And he voiced concern that if he had had his current dog, Tootsie, with him, Blitz would have killed it.

However, Lamster’s report also indicates that when she spoke with Swart, he invited her into his home and showed her surveillance video which showed Blitz momentarily visiting Villalpando — but not charging or attacking. She wrote, “I do not believe that Blitz was running in an aggressive manner due to seeing his tail wag; it appeared to be more of (a) playful run. I then saw Blitz run up to Villalpando and sniff his jacket. Blitz then ran back to the Swarts’ front yard.”

Lamster added, “I informed Swart that the dogs have to be leashed or able to be under voice control to not run away. Swart did say that when he called for Blitz he came back right away.”

A menace?

Despite Lamster’s description of the harmless incident — albeit one in which Swart’s dog left his yard — she followed up a few days later with a letter that informed Swart, “This incident has been classified as a Level 1 behavior as the animal was at large, on the private property of others and was found to be a menace to another individual.”

Swart responded by appealing that designation.

On Wednesday, Sturtevant Police Chief Sean Marschke said the determination of “menace” in this case was based upon Villalpando’s statements to Lamster that the incident made him fearful.

Swart challenged that determination before the committee Tuesday.

“A menace is ‘a person or a thing that is likely to cause harm, a threat or danger,’” according to the dictionary, Swart told the committee. As a verb, the definition is: “threaten, especially in a malignant or hostile manner.”

Swart cited his surveillance video and Lamster’s subsequent report that she did not believe Blitz was acting aggressively.

“Blitz saw Mr. Villalpando, he ran over there, he sniffed him, and he ran back as soon as I called for him,” Swart said. “And as soon as he ran out of the yard, I called for him and he came back.”

Addressing the citation for having a dog at large, he said, “I see dogs outside of their yards all the time.”

Swart said, “Just the other night I heard a call on the radio where a dog was running around in the road. A Sturtevant squad saw the dog, helped corral the dog, found the dog’s owner and returned the dog, and that was it.”

“(My) dog was at large, but: No harm, no foul.”

‘Here goes another one’

Villalpando told the committee that, considering his previous bad experience with Blitz, “The dog came up to me and I thought, ‘Here goes another one.’”

Afterward, Villalpando said, he had an anxiety attack.

He contended, “If I would have had Tootsie in my arms, he came at me, I wouldn’t be here today. I really believe that. And neither would Tootsie.”

The animal ordinance states, “Animals classified as Level 1 animals shall be restrained, so as not to be at large, by a physical device or structure, in a manner that prevents the animal from reaching any public sidewalk, or adjoining property and must be located so as not to interfere with the public’s legal access to the owner’s or caretaker’s premises, whenever that animal is outside.”

The Public Safety Committee did not discuss Swart’s appeal Tuesday but will schedule a future meeting where it will, and then make a recommendation to the full Village Board. Should Swart’s appeal with the committee fail, he would be able to make his case before the full Village Board.

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