Milton-Freewater Council adds bite to animal fines

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MILTON-FREEWATER - While the city has always had fines in place for those who violate animal ordinances, a recent vote by the City Council has put some teeth into the law.

On Monday, Council members heard from police Chief Doug Boedigheimer of a need to create consistency and clarity in how violations in the city's animal code are handled.

When new animal ordinances were adopted in 2007, the schedule of fines was left open, making it difficult for officers to follow a uniform procedure, he said. "It didn't make a lot of sense."

Council members agreed and adopted the resolution to bring the fines into accord with state law. Meaning, for example, too many dogs on a property goes from a flat fine of $250 to a tiered system - a first violation costing $287 and a second violation running $472.

Having unsanitary living conditions for a dog goes from $250 to $472.

Arming officers with a heftier bite for repeat offenders is one bonus to the new code, noted City Manager Linda Hall.

Having some extra revenue to help support animal control is another. "Code enforcement in Milton-Freewater's history has come and gone. We haven't always had the funding available in out city to enforce those programs, it is sort of a luxury for true public-safety dollars," she said.

"Dog offenses are not compared to burglaries, rape and murder."

That said, the larger fines may get the attention of animal owners her officers see time and time again for the same problems, Hall pointed out. "To say, ‘Listen, I wasn't kidding when I said we don't want to have to talk to you again.'"

On the other hand, it is important for people to know the city's police have always taken animal problems on a case-by-case basis, the manager emphasized. "Our officers do a wonderful job of being reasonable and judging each situation on its own merit."

In most cases, animal owners are given a chance to plead their case and fix problems before getting "the book thrown at them," she added.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom.

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