City puts teeth in dog ordinance

Port Orchard is considering a change to its dangerous animals ordinance that would make it easier for the city to seize dogs that pose a hazard to the community.

Right now, a dog can be declared dangerous if it chases, bites or harms someone, and its owner, as a result, can be required to register the animal as dangerous and keep it leashed and/or muzzled while in public.

However, the penalties for ignoring the rules are minor — mostly fines and non-criminal citations.

It’s very difficult to seize dangerous animals, even if they have bitten someone — unless the violations have gotten numerous enough to warrant criminal charges against the owner, a police officer has to actually see the dog attack someone before it can be taken to the pound.

The owner also has the right to appeal all decisions and penalties to the Animal Appeal Board, made up of two city council members and one local veterinarian.

Meanwhile, the owner can keep the dog with little official oversight.

Police Chief Al Townsend said this often causes problems. Many owners of aggressive dogs like them that way and tend to ignore orders requiring them to keep their animals under control at all times.

Keeping tabs on dogs deemed dangerous and collecting fines for violations can be near-impossible legally, and criminal charges are difficult to obtain.

A recent case of a dog running amok through its neighborhood, Townsend said, was only resolved when the animal was accidentally hit by a car. The owner, he said, refused to cooperate with police or control his dog.

“You can’t get the prosecutor to help that much,” Townsend said. “It’s so inefficient the way (the rules) are designed.”

The proposed ordinance would make it easier for animal control or police officers to impound animals and hold them as soon as they demonstrate aggressive or anti-social tendencies.

In addition, with the revisions in place, the dog in question could be seized by authorities for any violations after being declared potentially dangerous — violations that can include simply being off-leash in the community.

The point, Townsend said, is to get aggressive dogs off the street before they have the chance to injure someone.

“The code was great in the day when pet owners were more inclined to have in their control pets that are well-socialized and more of a non-aggressive breed,” said Rance McEntyre of Kitsap Animal Control, who wrote a letter to city recommending the change.

The change was approved by the Port Orchard City Council’s public safety committee Tuesday evening. Although the committee agreed to unanimously support the measure when it comes before the full council at a later date, committee chair Councilman Todd Cramer expressed reservations with the intent of the ordinance.

He disliked the way animal control officials appeared to be blaming the dogs for their aggression instead of holding the owners’ responsible for the dogs’ behavior.

“Dogs aren’t dangerous,” Cramer said. “People train them to be dangerous. I’ve known pit bulls to be the biggest pussycats.”

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