Council to consider if dog ordinance needs more teeth

Police Chief Chuck Fulton is expected to present a report during a Council work session Monday.

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WALLA WALLA - A dog attack in February that left one Whitman College student injured and several neighbors fleeing an aggressive pitbull is one reason Council members will review the city's dangerous dog ordinances at a public work session on Monday.

On Feb. 26, on the 800 block of Main Street, Susan Janelle, 56, said she noticed both of the neighbor's pitbulls had gotten loose.

On previous occasions, Janelle said she had encountered one of the pitbulls running loose and managed to take the dog home.

"Usually, if one gets loose I am not afraid. So I thought I would go and get the one and take him home. And I called to the one. And the other just charged me," she said.

Janelle said she barely made it to her fenced yard in time.

"It was terrible, it was the most terrifying thing I have ever felt, then I just barely got in my gate," she said.

What followed was an intervention by another neighbor, Mayor Barbara Clark, who then yelled to try to distract the dog.

"I heard the dog pushing up against the fence. So I yelled out ‘Hey.' And it distracted the dog. It worked," Clark said.

It worked perhaps a little too well, as the pitbull then came after Clark, who then placed herself on the opposite side of a parked vehicle.

"We kind of looked at each other, and I guess he kind of figured we were going to go around and around. So he went off," Clark said.

But an approaching Whitman College student could not escape. She was attacked and bitten.

A police report on the incident was not readily available for review, but Janelle said she ended up taking the young woman to the emergency room, while police officers worked to catch the two dogs.

Clark brought the incident to the attention of her colleagues at the next Council meeting.

The result was Council asked staff to review the city's current ordinances and policies on dangerous dogs.

On Monday, Police Chief Chuck Fulton is expect to present that report to Council.

According to Fulton's report, current city ordinances are more than adequate to keep the problem of dangerous dogs in check.

Fulton goes on to state that one of the issues that leads to dangerous encounters is a lack of public awareness of the current laws.

In his report, he stated, "... a major issue remains, and that is public education. Often, dangerous animals are recognized within a neighborhood, by several persons or families, but notification to law enforcement is never made."

Clark agreed there may be an issue of public awareness.

"It is going to be important to help neighbors and members of the public realize that it is very important when they have an experience with a dog that is menacing them, they need to report it. Because then there is no way to track that behavior and no way to try and control it if they don't," Clark said.

In addition to the lack of public awareness, Clark said she also questions if there is a lack of enforcement.

Current city ordinances require: "All dogs shall be kept under restraint. The owner of any at large (loose in public) dog shall be strictly liable for violation of this section."

"If that were enforced, I think people would begin to understand that there is a fine that can be connected with that ... If that became the norm, that dogs are simply not allowed to be out without being attached to their owner, to me that would be another way to minimize the encounters that a free roaming dog would have with a person or a neighbor," Clark said.

Fulton's report stated "almost one-third of general dog bites are inflicted by dogs running at large."

The report went on to state the city has numerous ordinances dealing with dogs, once they have been declared dangerous. Those ordinances include providing proper enclosures, neutering, requiring muzzles when in public, among other restrictions.

But these ordinances go into effect only when a dog has shown it is dangerous.

Clark said the city is not considering a breed-specific ordinance, where one breed is deemed dangerous.

Fulton's report also showed that of the 27 dangerous dog declaration since 2002, 10 declarations were made as a result of an attack on a human. The remainder were for attacks on other animals.

Of those 10, two of the dogs declared dangerous were pit bulls. The other dogs were three shepherds, a labrador, a rottweiler, a border collie, a Chesapeake and a mastiff.

The Walla Walla City Council work session starts Monday at 4 p.m. at City Hall, 15 N. Third Ave.

The meeting is open to the public, and public testimony is expected to be taken.

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