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Council discusses dog law options

Sierra Sun Staff

Tonight’s town council discussion of Animal Control enforcement and policies will cap off more than a month of intense interest in the topic, which began with a group of residents who spoke up at council last month in favor of stricter enforcement.

Animal control staffing, implementation and direction are on the table for discussion at the town council meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. in the council chambers on Donner Pass Road. In a report prepared for council, Community Development Director Tony Lashbrook outlined the current status and policies of Animal Control, and explained the alternatives open to council.

“Currently, dogs are prohibited from running at large on public streets or other public places or on private property, without permission of the owner, unless they are in ‘the immediate presence and under the direct control of the owner and the owner can demonstrate effective control of the animal,'” Lashbrook wrote, citing the existing law. He said that dogs which have been determined to be dangerous must be confined or on a leash at all times.

“The officers have not identified difficulties in enforcing these regulations,” he reported, adding that it is also unlawful for dogs to create a nuisance by barking, using private property as a regular bathroom, or chasing cars or people.

“In the case of potentially dangerous dogs or nuisance complaints, the Town Code requires that complaints be filed in writing,” he said. “The complaint initiates an investigation by an officer and a determination is based upon the investigation. As with any infraction, an officer must witness the violation before a citation can be issued.” However, he said that Animal Control personnel make contact and counsel the alleged offending dog owners even if a violation was not observed.

Because Truckee includes several widely separated neighborhoods served by 140 miles of roads, Lashbrook said regular patrols by Animal Control officers are not possible in all neighborhoods. Currently, the policy is to focus on areas where complaints are common. Animal Control’s staffing at this time includes a supervisor and one and a third full-time equivalent officers. Animal Control also has contract responsibilities to the north of Truckee, which account for the remaining two-thirds of a full-time position. The staffing at this time allows for about 36 hours of patrol time weekly.

When an officer picks up an at-large dog, he identifies the owner, if the dog is licensed, and either returns the dog to its home or impounds the dog and notifies the owner, Lashbrook said. The animal is returned with either a warning or an at-large citation.

“Cost of the initial citation is usually $81 and subsequent citations in a 12-month period are $189 and $486,” he wrote. “The decision to impose the maximum fine or a lesser penalty is up to the court.” There is a minimum impound fee of $25 whenever a dog is picked up by Animal Control.

Currently, Truckee Animal Control’s limited kennel space has an impact on the number of animals which can be impounded and held, but that is expected to change with the opening of a new kennel later this year, which should triple the agency’s capacity, Lashbrook said.

Lashbrook said town council has a number of option to consider to deal with the number of at-large dogs and Animal Control’s levels of service.

One step which could be taken immediately, with the least financial impact to the town, would be a change in enforcement policy, he said.

“From my perspective most of the citizen complaints I receive about Animal Control, until very recently, indicate a perception that the punitive measures are too commonly used in enforcement and are too harsh,” he wrote. “In the last two months, the officers have been in a maximum enforcement mode, meaning that punitive measures are imposed unless there is a compelling reason not to impose them.” He said Animal Control staff believe that the increased enforcement has resulted in fewer at-large dogs.

“A council directive to maintain this enforcement policy will send a strong message to the public and support the staff in the day-to-day implementation of a more aggressive enforcement philosophy,” Lashbrook said. “This is a step which could be taken immediately.”

Another option open to council would be to increase the level of patrol and enforcement – meaning that additional personnel would be hired or removed from part of their contract duties.

“Increasing patrol will require a new officer and/or redirecting existing resources from contract areas,” Lashbrook wrote. “Based upon preliminary analysis, these alternatives have the potential to increase patrol levels from 30 percent to 110 percent, with staff costs ranging from $25,000 to $65,000 per year, along with concurrent increases in vehicle, vehicle maintenance and fuel costs.”

He said all options to increase patrols would result in significant ongoing costs, and would be considered in the context of the annual budget process.

“The cost of increased animal control will compete against other community priorities such as road repair, snow removal, etc.,” Lashbrook said. He said the Community Development Department intended to recommend a staffing increase to enhance patrol levels as part of the Fiscal Year 1999-2000 budget process.

“The basis of this recommendation is the significant increase in population that has occurred in the community over the last five years, with only minor changes to Animal Control staffing,” he wrote. He said town staff anticipate that increased patrols would further reduce the number of at-large dogs.

Another option would be for council to adopt stricter regulations, such as a real leash law or higher fines. However, he said town staff believes stricter regulations will have little effect without a corresponding increase in enforcement. Also, stricter regulations and higher redemption costs might cause more dog owners to abandon their pets, creating a concern about increased euthanasia and putting more pressure on the Truckee Humane Society to adopt out more dogs.

Lashbrook said town staff’s recommendations to council would be for council to immediately consider adoption of a maximum enforcement policy direction and direct staff to monitor its effectiveness and report back during the budget process. He also recommended that council consider hiring additional Animal Control patrol staff during the budget process and schedule additional public discussion of the issue during the budget process and again next fall or winter. Based upon the success of those measures, he said council might consider adoption of stricter regulations.


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