Council endorses strict enforcement of dog law
Truckee Town Council endorsed maximum enforcement procedures by Animal Control last week – stopping short of an actual leash law but warning that one might follow if some irresponsible dog owners don’t clean up their act.
“At this point, I am still in favor of a measured response,” Councilmember Maia Schneider said after the decision. However, she warned people not to consider the issue finished.
“It is not over and it is not done,” Schneider said. “If you don’t want a leash law, control your dog now. This may be your last opportunity.”
The council decision affirmed a policy which has been in effect for the last month with some success, according to town staff. Although Animal Control is understaffed by one officer now, the agency has been in maximum enforcement mode since January – citing dog owners for violations unless there is compelling reason to do otherwise.
Council heard complaints by several residents from Tahoe Donner and Glenshire during the meeting last Thursday. All who spoke following the staff presentation on the issue were in favor of stricter enforcement or a leash law. Some had complaints of being chased or bitten by dogs with no owner in sight, while others complained of dogs barking all night because their owners are not home or have locked them outside.
“A lot of things staff has identified will go a long way toward solving this problem,” resident Fred Zirbel said. “This has got to be pounded in public venues not only to people who live here but to second homeowners. Animal Control needs staff on weekends. If you are not doing it on weekends, you are missing half the problem.”
Zirbel and others said they know people who can keep their dogs under control without a leash, but said the current law has to be clarified to ensure a dog is under the control of the person walking it. For example, he said a dog should not be considered under control if it is ranging into private property and using people’s gardens as a bathroom as the owner walks it.
Tahoe Donner resident Warren Siem, who owns two small dogs, said that his neighborhood on St. Bernard has become “a warzone” because of his complaints over neighbors’ uncontrolled dogs and late-night barking.
“Most of my neighborhood would sit and watch my house burn down rather than call the fire department,” he said. “I pretty much feel there some dog owners out there who feel it is a rite of passage to let their dogs do whatever they want.” Siem said he respects Animal Control for their hard work, but he now goes straight to filing a citizen’s complaint.
Siem said he has take cases to court many times, and that now Judge Andy Holmer refers him directly to arbitration, rather than hearing the case.
“The judge does not want these cases in his court,” Siem said. “He believes it is a waste of his time. I have been through arbitration three times. Arbitration is a joke. The arbitrator wants us to get along and it is too late for that.”
Siem said arbitration resulted in an agreement where he has to notify his neighbors before coming to his residence in Tahoe Donner for the weekend.
“It has not solved anything,”: he said. “I have become the problem. In the arbitration hearing, I was even accused of killing a dog because they had to tie it up and it got depressed and died.”
Ron Wulff, a California Highway Patrol officer and Tahoe Donner resident, said he is in favor of a clearly-defined leash law, instead of the current law, which states that dogs must be under the “direct and immediate control of their owners.”
“If California had a law that said you could go as fast as you want as long as it is safe, we would have the same problems,” Wulff said. “If you had a leash law there would be no problem.”
Wulff said three dogs wait at then end of his driveway every Wednesday for him to put out his trash cans. Although he chases them away, they come back and tip over the cans later to dig through the garbage, he said.
Wulff also said he has a problem with one dog on his street which is under control in its owner’s garage until it sees another dog and comes charging out.
“When we walk our dogs, I carry pepper spray,” Wulff said. “Mace won’t hurt dogs because they have no tear ducts. Pepper spray will knock them straight down. That’s for anyone who wants to walk their dog on a leash.”
Prosser resident Karen Sessler said she has witnessed an improvement in her neighborhood since Animal Control began maximum enforcement a month ago.
“There is no point in writing laws we cannot enforce,” Sessler said, expressing agreement with the council’s decision not to implement a leash law.
“A couple of local dog owners got the message and now have their dogs restrained on their property,” Sessler said. “When I walk on my street they are no longer a threat.”
Kadi Kiisk-Mohr, president of the Humane Society of Truckee, said the organization supports a leash law.
“Looking at these figures, any ordinary reasonable person would conclude that Truckee has a problem with roaming dogs,” Kiisk-Mohr said. “The humane society’s purpose is to promote responsible pet ownership.”
She said the society believes that dog owners have the right to allow dogs to run on their own property.
“But animals do not understand property boundaries,” Kiisk-Mohr said. “There have been incidents where a cat is on someone’s property and a pack of dogs goes over an kills it.”
She also said it is not safe for animals to be lying around in the streets.
“When I first moved here, I was told that the proper name for Glenshire was Dogshire,” she said. “It seems the policy there that everyone have two dogs and let them roam freely.” She said dogs in the streets are a common sight in Glenshire and other areas of Truckee.
“In Tahoe Donner we have our ‘Tahoe Donner speedbumps,'” she said. “Does a responsible pet owner allow his dog to lie out in the street?”
She said that some owners use the excuse that they cannot afford a fence.
“If you cannot afford an $800 fence, can you afford an $800 vet bill when your dog is hit by a car?” Kiisk-Mohr said. “You can see this on a day-to-day basis, seeing how many dogs are brought in from fights or from being hit in the street.”
Council members Bob Drake and Josh Susman both agreed that the current furor over animal control is a side effect of Truckee’s growth.
“Truckee is a community in a state of painful change from a truly small town to an urbanized community,” Drake said. “The increase in population brings new people, with beliefs new or different to those of longtime residents. The dog issue represents one of these conflicts in mores and views.”
He said that it is apparent that there is a real problem with roaming dogs, but urged town government to continue with its “user-friendly” attitude.
“Rather than jump in with both feet, such as enacting a strict new leash law and hiring more staff, I suggest that the council make a formal introduction to staff to severely limit the issuance of warnings,” Drake said. He urged also that the town write to Judge Holmer and express to him that the enforcement of the animal control law is a serious matter and ask that he consider increasing the level of fines.
“I believe the court has discretion in the amount of the fines applied,” Drake said.
He said the council action will allow the town to respond to the concerned residents and send a message to those who allow dogs to run free to offend or threaten others.
“We could closely monitor the statistics and complaint numbers and review the matter in three to six months,” he said.
Drake’s proposal was adopted 5-0 by council.
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