Council hears complaints about loose dogs | SierraSun.com
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Council hears complaints about loose dogs

JOHN A. BAYLESS

Several residents upset with the number of dogs running loose in their neighborhoods spoke up at last week’s town council meeting, asking for tighter animal control laws and more enforcement.

Residents chose to speak immediately following Animal Control Officer Dan Olsen’s yearly report on the department’s statistics.

Prosser resident Karen Sessler appealed to council to change policy, stating that many people fear to walk the streets in her neighborhood because of the number of uncontrolled dogs.

“We should be able to walk any street in our neighborhood,” Sessler said. “There are streets in Prosser which are too dangerous to walk. A week does not go by that the Sierra Sun sheriff’s log does not describe an incident with a dog which became dangerous.”

She said the numbers Olsen quoted in his report for calls were invalid.

“I have called you on 25 dogs myself,” Sessler said. “The only time you come out is when we catch a dog ourselves. You told us the only way to resolve this is to take it to court ourselves. This should not happen. You are a public servant.”

Sessler said Animal Control officers should get out of their trucks and do foot patrols, so they can see the dogs that charge out aggressively at pedestrians.

Kenneth Richey of Tahoe Donner said he also came to the meeting to voice his frustration with the current animal control situation.

“I personally had a dog which was paraplegic for months and eventually died after an attack by a Rottweiler owned by a deputy sheriff,” he said. “I encourage the town to adopt a no-tolerance policy. I think those of us who are frustrated will develop a no-tolerance policy ourselves. I know people who carry handguns when walking. I personally carry Mace and I will not hesitate to use it on any dog which bothers me.”

Resident Fred Zirbel said additional personnel are needed to enforce Animal Control regulations 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We’ve been through this before at night, and have been told that they do not come out unless someone is injured,” he said. Zirbel said it sounds like Animal Control officers are more concerned about the rights of the pet owner than neighbors who are affected by the pet’s behavior.

“Perhaps Animal Control officers should be a little more sympathetic to the rest of us,” he said. “Animal Control should let people know that opening the door in the morning and letting your dog out is not OK. We need to let people know that’s not OK, and changing the ordinance is one way to do it. It should be more specific. If a dog is off the property, it should be on a leash. If folks think that’s too extreme, perhaps they should move somewhere else.”

Dave Drinks, Tahoe Donner Association manager, said Tahoe Donner began keeping track of animal control problems in the past 6 months, and has had 57 documented complaints.

“Almost weekly, there are one or two complaints of dogs chasing people,” Drinks said. “We will be tracking the calls.”

Tahoe Donner resident Bob Krapp said that often people are afraid to complain about neighbors’ dogs, and that it is a problem getting enough people to sign a complaint for Animal Control to respond.

“There have been several references made to the weekend,” Krapp said. “It seems there should be more effort on the weekends to look for problem dogs. I think there is a problem. My wife thinks there is a problem. We plan on defending ourselves when we go on a walk.”

Truckee’s current animal control law specifies that dogs must be “under control,” a definition which is open to some interpretation. It does not require dogs to be on a leash.

Some residents who spoke at council said a dog should not be considered under control if it is quartering the street a half-block ahead of its owner.

In response to council questions, Olsen said less than half of dogs involved in at-large complaints are picked up, because by the time Animal Control receives the complaint and responds, the dog is either on the owner’s property or contained out of sight.

Councilmember Bob Drake inquired about the use of citizen’s arrest in such cases, and Olsen said Judge Andy Holmer was not pleased with the practice.

“Tony and I met with Holmer to discuss a possible mediation service,” Olsen said. He said such a service would try to resolve the neighborhood disputes before they made it to court.

He said the ordinance in place allows for an $81 fee for the first offense, a $189 fee for the second offense, and a $489 fee for the third offense.

“There are a lot of things we could do,” Olsen said. “We could vote in a strict leash law. Then if your dog’s not tied up, you get a citation. However, we would have problems with a ‘Gestapo’ image and also our current staff levels could not support it.”

Olsen said Animal Control has problems especially with contractors, who bring their dogs into unfamiliar neighborhoods and allow them to run loose.

“It has been almost a daily occurrence this week,” Olsen said. “Almost every day there’s a contractor dog running loose.”

Olsen said that complaints about out-of-control dogs are not a matter of public record unless the case comes to a trial, where the defendant has the right to face his or her accuser.

“A lot of people assume that all of their information is public record,” he said. “But all callers are protected under the law by the evidence code.”

Council members discussed the options available – from instituting a no-tolerance policy where pet owners are fined on the first offense to putting a real leash law in place.

Drake said that the council could consider a change in Animal Control policy to zero-tolerance, and that it seemed Animal Control officers were more public relations oriented in their first dealings now with problem pet owners.

“We could change that and cite them the first time out,” Drake said. “It’s just like speeding. The repeat owner will either lock the dog up or get rid of it.”

Since the discussion of the Animal Control law was not agendized, council took no action on the issue. However, councilmembers agreed that it should be agendized at a later date.

“It was basically a presentation item,” Mayor Josh Susman said Tuesday. “We discussed it as much as we could. The council had a consensus that we have a problem that we have to deal with and agendize it for public dialogue.”

He said there are a number of ways council can look at the matter.

“As far as potential solutions, we could look at more public education and the possibility of a new policy to give a stronger hand to Animal Control,” he said. “Ultimately, if it became necessary, we could discuss a leash law.”

He said Animal Control officers appear to be doing the best they can with the resources available.

“It then becomes a council decision to reallocate those resources to address the problem,” Susman said.

He said discussion on animal control issues will probably be agendized in the first quarter of 1999.

Truckee has two full-time Animal Control officers and one part-time. Truckee Animal Control operates between 8 a.m to 5 p.m. seven days a week, and is available for emergency calls from 5 p.m. to midnight seven days a week.

Animal Control statistics

Animal totals

Redeemed – 219

Adopted – 76

Euthanized – 34*

Picked up dead – 56*

Transferred to a different shelter – 18

Taken to veterinarian – 4

Bite quarantine – 32

*Represents both domestic and wild animals euthanized after injury or found on roadside.

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