The Hood River County Commission meeting was emotionally charged on Dec. 3 when a group of pet owners offered to help re-write the existing dog laws.
Frances Mazzara of Duke's Valley made a tearful appeal to the county board to reform its enforcement practices. She said because a neighbor was using the dog codes as a weapon against her family, she had been forced to spend more than $10,000 in legal fees to successfully fight court actions.
"It has wrecked our lives, it has wrecked us emotionally and physically," said Mazzara.
Also present at the Dec. 3 meeting was Mo Stevenson of Highline Drive, a dog owner who also paid thousands of dollars to win the freedom of "Kiss-Kiss," her Chow-Shar Pei mix that initially received a "death sentence" by the local court after attacking another canine. Both Mazzara and Stevenson have threatened lawsuits against the county.
In large part because of these cases, Joan Fowler, a Wy'East Road resident, told the county board she had met with other concerned citizens who wanted to alleviate future problems. They would like to serve in an advisory capacity during revision of the county dog laws and as mediators to eliminate the need for legal intervention.
The group is asking that the following principles be incorporated into any revision of the dog laws:
a recognition that dog owners in rural communities do not place severe restrictions on their pets.
an understanding that dog ownership does not carry with it criminal liability.
a realization that dog owners and enforcement officers have responsibilities to the dogs as well as to the complainants.
an acknowledgment that one complaint should not be sufficient for serious enforceable action against an owner.
If these principles are generally accepted, the group would like the county to incorporate language into its code that forbids canines from being sold for scientific experiment and replaces the police presence with a formal citizen review committee which would step in after the third infraction to review facts and take neighbor testimony before rendering a binding verdict.
John Arens, chair of the county board, said officials will review these suggestions and meet again in January to address the issue further.