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City orders steps for Willmar dog owner to reclaim pet, avoid animal being euthanized

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WILLMAR — The Willmar City Council has ordered the owner of a dog seized late last month to take certain steps in order to reclaim the animal and avoid euthanization of the dog.

Willmar Police Chief Jim Felt asked the council last week to act on a violation of the city's ordinance governing dangerous dogs.

"The primary goal is gain compliance from the animal owner and ensure the safety of the dog and public. Reclaiming the animal is priority versus the euthanization of the dog," Felt said.

The dog, a four-year-old Husky who lives on the 1100 block of Dana Avenue Southeast, was proclaimed "a potentially dangerous dog" in August 2016 due to complaints dating back to April 2014, including 12 barking dog complaints, a dog-on-dog bite complaint and two human bite complaints.

The dog was seized Dec. 28 and brought to the Hawk Creek Animal Shelter in Willmar after a third running-at-large incident since the time of the determination that it is potentially dangerous. Running at-large is a violation of the conditions placed upon the owner under the ordinance.

To reclaim the dog, the owner was ordered by the City Council to show proof the dog has completed a rabies vaccination, to obtain a city animal license and to have the animal neutered, which it is hoped will decrease his aggressive tendency and wandering.

The owner has 30 days from Jan. 9 to complete the city's requirements or the dog will be surrendered permanently to the animal shelter. If it reaches that stage, it will mostly likely be euthanized.

Casey Rajewsky, a certified veterinary technician and kennel manager at Hawk Creek Animal Shelter, said because of liability issues and safety concerns, the shelter rarely offers dogs for adoption that have been deemed by the city to be either potentially dangerous or dangerous.

"They have shown some sort of aggression," Rajewsky said.

Rajewsky said she has spoken with the owner, and he is hoping to get the dog back and plans to set up an appointment to have the animal neutered. The Tribune was unable to contact the owner.

Willmar Police Sgt. Mike Jahnke, who is also the city's animal control officer, said the city's animal ordinances are based on state statutes.

Willmar has two aggressive animal designations — potentially dangerous and dangerous. Whether an animal is declared potentially dangerous or dangerous depends on the severity of possible bites, aggression and history.

For animals deemed potentially dangerous, the city ordinance requires the animals to be licensed, microchipped and vaccinated against rabies, and the owner also must provide a proper enclosure to keep the animal from getting out. Also, if the animal is brought off private property, it must be a on leash no longer than six feet and under the control of a person 18 years or older.

"They have to be careful with these animals," Jahnke said, adding there are about two dozen animals in Willmar deemed potentially dangerous under the ordinance.

A dangerous animal is a higher level of determination and owners must follow even more restrictions to keep the animal. An owner of a dangerous animal must also have the animal sterilized, have the animal muzzled when not in its enclosure, must obtain liability insurance, display the city's dangerous animal sign and tag, and pay a special licensing fee.

Jahnke said there are only two dangerous dogs licensed in Willmar and they are owned by the same individual.

Under the ordinance, the city can also add requirements to specific cases, whether the animal is declared potentially dangerous or dangerous, Jahnke said. That is why the Husky case brought forward to the council includes sterilization, due to the history of the animal.

Obtaining an animal license is required for all dogs and cats over six months old living in Willmar. They can be purchased at local vets and at the city offices.

"You can be cited for not having an animal licensed," Jahnke said.

That being said, police officers will not be stopping people who are out walking their dogs.

"If we see Timmy walking his dog down the street, we're not going to stop and ask for a license," Jahnke said.

Jahnke said additional public education on licensing and the animal ordinances could help spread the word.

"It is an issue that needs to be addressed. Responsible dog owners make happy neighbors," Jahnke said.

The Police Department urges residents to report animal complaints or concerns, because in most cases action will not be taken unless there is a complaint first.

"We do respond to every complaint," Jahnke said.

Councilor Audrey Nelsen, during the Jan. 8 council meeting discussion, asked if more could be done to make sure animals are licensed and and make sure that potentially dangerous and/or dangerous animals are properly accounted for.

"We can take some steps with dog licenses and perhaps look at our ordinances to see if there is some way to prevent these from happening again in the future," Nelsen said.

Before giving its permission to allow the Police Department to move forward with the most recent case, Mayor Marv Calvin voiced his disappointment that such a decision needed to be made at all.

"It is a very sad day when a dog owner doesn't take the responsibility that is needed to take care of the animal that has been entrusted to them," Calvin said. "At the end of the day, it is about public safety and we have to keep our public safe."

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