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Dog owners need better education, not tighter rules

Another Voice

By CHRIS EMERSON

Special to the News

Thank you for your coverage of the dog ordinance debate in the Saturday, Dec. 7 issue.

The “Dissenting Report” of two members of the dog ordinance review committee objected to two primary changes proposed and brought up an additional area for county commissioners’ consideration.

The committee’s discussion about tightening the leash law centered on three issues warranting corrective action: a) dogs running off their property onto public thoroughfares and bothering bicyclists, pedestrians and children on scooters; b) dogs sitting outside downtown businesses, some off leash and some tied to parking meters, and c) dogs in parks, such as Old Mosier highway trail, off leash and bothering those with dogs on leash, or at the Marina with dogs retreiving.

The committee thought that by tightening the leash law these problems would resolve themselves. The dissenting opinion disagreed. The way the law now reads a dog which is “not under immediate control and command of an owner thereof” (when off its own property) is “a dog at large” and in violation of the ordinance. Under the current definition an owner/keeper could be prosecuted for allowing his dog to go out into a public thoroughfare to harass a pedestrian, biker or child. A tightening of the leash law does not “improve” chances that dogs will be restrained ahead of time. The committee seemed to think that by tightening the leash law dog owners would take precaution to prevent their dogs from running off their property. We do not believe that the desired result will flow from a more restrictive law. More dog owner education and warnings would do more to prevent dogs from running off their properties. Not all dog owners are irresponsible, which the proposed change seems to imply.

Similarly, a dog outside a coffee shop, tethered or untethered, is not under the control and command of its owner if the owner is inside the shop. No further legislation is required. Again, we believe that owners should protect their pet from the unlikely possibility that the pet will bite someone or another pet if disturbed in unusual fashion.

The major parks in the county are posted that all dogs must be on leash at all times. Any owner/keeper is putting himself or herself at risk as well as the pet by not obeying these signs.

The dissenting opinion then raised the question, would complaints about dogs off leash increase because of the tightening of the ordinance? Does the Sheriff have the resources to commit to following up on all off-leash complaints? And is it really fair to all our summer visitors and guests to tighten our ordinance when they have no access to or knowledge of the same?

The committee also recommended placing “Chasing Livestock” be added to the public nuisance section of the dog ordinance. Chasing livestock is a complicated issue in Oregon law. Some statewide procedures cannot be superceded. The dissenting opinion named three articles in the state statute which could cause trouble down the line. In addition the state sets up a tiered system of sanctions in order to protect pets from rigid enforcement procedures when they are accused of chasing livestock. Shouldn’t Hood River have a similar set of levels of “dangerousness” when dealing with dogs in the county? At the moment the judge in dangerous dog cases has all the responsibility for developing the truth in testimony and the ultimate power in the disposition of the dog. With neighbors facing off against neighbors is there not a better way?

Finally, the existing ordinance states that “the County Sheriff shall provide for an adequate facility to receive, care for and safely confine any animal delivered to its custody under provisions of the title, which facility shall be accessible to the public during reasonable hours for the conduct of necessary business concerning impounded animals.” Since we had two cases in the valley recently where impounded dogs were returned to their owners after stays of 18 months and 6 months, the dissenting opinion calls for new wording in the above section (6.24.010) to the effect that the dogs should be returned to their owners in approximately the same condition as when they were impounded.

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Chris Emerson of Hood River was a citizen member of the dog ordinance review committee.

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