Owners of dogs determined to be 'potentially dangerous' will have to cough up $700 annually for licensing costs in Ridgewood.
The village council on Wednesday unanimously agreed to increase the licensing fee from the state minimum of $150 to the maximum of $700 on an annual basis. Officials said they were prompted to act following an alleged unprovoked dog attack in December.
Although there are roughly 50 dog bite incidents investigated by the Ridgewood Health Department per year, it's extremely rare that a dog is designated "potentially dangerous." No dog had been officially labeled potentially dangerous in nearly a decade, according to village officials.
"The expectation and hope is we won't have to use it," Mayor Paul Aronsohn said, referring to the ordinance passed Wednesday.
Procedurally, a dog is determined to be potentially dangerous by a New Jersey municipal court, and in the majority of cases, the dog has a history of bites or unprovoked attacks.
Once a dog is declared potentially dangerous, the health department must make monthly visits to ensure the animal is being properly monitored. Determination is made by dog, not based on breed. Once the declaration is made, it cannot be reversed. A potentially dangerous dog is branded one for life in New Jersey.
Legally, the $700 fee can only be applied to administrative costs and not site visits or investigations. Canine groups have spoken out against the increased fee, which is based on state statute. They contend the fees do not address the issues.
So while the ordinance itself drew headlines, a flurry of dog groups pledged support for an educational committee on pet ownership Wednesday night, to be headed by Jeffrey Ball.
Ball, a Ridgewood resident and the current president of the NJ Federation of Dog Clubs, said many dangers are preventable with proper education.
"Too often now people go on the Internet, buy dogs and put themselves in situations where they don't know how to deal with it," Ball said. "Dogs can then become dangerous."
There was a reported dog biting three weeks ago, where owners attempted to break up a fight between their scrapping dogs. They suffered minor cuts to hands and arms, police said.
"That would have been prevented, and simple education does that," Ball remarked.
"With drunk driving, drugs, don't we educate the public on things not to do? It's the same thing that needs to be done here. So I put a proposal to the mayor, to the council, to start a responsible pet ownership committee here in town."
The committee, he hopes, will draw participation from village residents, officials and citizens from nearby towns. The American Kennel Club will supply materials without cost to Ridgewood, Ball said. Residents and the council have supported the idea of a committee.
The committee will address issues affecting owners of other animals, like cats, birds and rabbits.
Several dog trainers, representatives from local shelters, and kennel club members told the council they would offer their expertise and time free of charge when the committee gets off the ground.