Tahoe couple questions animal laws after fatal dog attack
May 7, 2014
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been clarified to indicate that Incline Village is an unincorporated area of Washoe County, and thus, leashes are not required on dogs. However, if dogs break a leash or fail to return to their owner while under a signal or voice command, the animals are considered unrestrained — or “at large” — and their owners may be subject to fines.
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — A local couple is questioning the county's animal control laws after their 8-year-old dog died from injuries suffered when it was attacked by two larger dogs on Easter Sunday.
According to Washoe County Animal Services, a pair of 2-year-old German shepherd mix dogs attacked Incline Village resident James Gaither and his 20-pound dog Bertie, an 8-year-old cavalier King Charles spaniel, at about 9:45 p.m. Sunday, April 20.
Gaither said he was walking Bertie on a leash by their home on Martis Peak Drive when the roughly 60-pound German shepherds "came charging up the hill" toward him from nearby Lakeshore Boulevard.
"In the ensuing battle, our dog was mortally injured. His skin was ripped off his body, and my husband was bitten, scraped and bruised," said James' wife, Bonnie Gaither, in a phone interview this week. "Our dog did not survive. We are devastated."
The German shepherds are owned by Steve Miller, who lives at a home on the 600 block of Martis Peak Drive, across the street from the Gaithers.
Barry Brode, Regional Animal Services Manager for Washoe County, said the dogs were leashed, but they broke away from Miller's control.
Miller said he "felt horrible" about the incident and "takes full responsibility," according to the investigation report.
"He was unaware that the dog was euthanized from injuries, and broke down crying when I told him that," the investigating officer wrote.
A phone message left for Miller seeking comment for this story was not returned.
Animal Services issued four civil penalties to Miller, two each for the following violations:
• Permitting his dogs to chase, worry, injure or kill a domestic animal on open range or private property.
• Allowing his dog to be at large in a congested area.
Each infraction carries a $100 fine; according to county code, if Miller pays them within 30 days of being cited, he receives a 50 percent rebate.
The law also mandates Miller to "quarantine" his dogs for 10 days, by either ensuring they're secured on his property or arranging for a veterinarian or Animal Services to board the animals.
Considering the investigation determined Miller's dogs' rabies vaccinations were up to code, he was allowed to quarantine them himself, Brode said. Wednesday marked the last day of the 10-day ban.
"Since there was a valid rabies vaccination on these animals, the officer believed it was in the best interest that the owner would monitor and keep them quarantined," Brode said.
When asked if Animal Services considers the German shepherds a danger to other dogs or humans, Brode said, "not at this time."
"This appears to be an isolated incident … our condolences of course go out to the dog owners, to both of them," he said.
According to the law, should Miller's dogs get in trouble again, Miller is subject to double the fines ($200 per infraction), and the dogs would be up for another 10-day quarantine. A third offense carries a $400 per-violation fine and another 10 days. The 30-day rebate rule applies to second and third offenses.
If a fourth offense occurs, it's treated as a misdemeanor citation, Brode said, and handled through the courts like any criminal charge.
If any case gets to that level, a judge could determine the animals to be a danger to society.
"That is up to a judge at that time … but we don't foresee that happening with this case," Brode said.
While he didn't have specific statistics available for Incline Village, Brode said that, "unfortunately," his office deals with "a dog bite per day" throughout Washoe County.
Regarding Washoe County's leash laws for domestic animals, Incline Village is considered an unincorporated area within Washoe County, similar to Sun Valley, Brode said.
"That means dogs can be off-leash, so long as they are under voice control or immediate command of the owner," he said.
However, if dogs break a leash or fail to return to their owner while under a signal or voice command, the animals are considered unrestrained — or "at large" — and their owners may be subject to fines.
The Gaithers said they traveled to the Bay Area after Bertie was euthanized and have yet to return.
"We hate the thought of going back there," Bonnie said. "We understand a dog may get a second chance if it bites someone when it feels threatened, or is protecting its owner or property. However, when a dog treats humans and other animals as prey and attacks unprovoked, that dog should not get a second chance. It should be put down."
The Gaithers said they paid $1,350 for Bertie when it was a puppy, and valued its worth at closer to $1,600 when it was euthanized.
"We just loved him. The dog went everywhere with us. In our truck, he had a special bench seat where he'd ride with us," James said.
While the situation is unfortunate, Bonnie said hopefully a lesson can be learned.
"Our caution to our neighbors is to use extreme vigilance when walking their dogs on Martis Peak or Lakeshore…" she said. "We sincerely hope that no further injury is experienced by anyone else."