County removes some teeth from dog law

In the first meeting of his new term, Hood River County Commission Chair Rodger Schock cast the tie-breaking vote to take the teeth out of a proposed dog leash law.

“I really wonder if we’re doing more harm here than good,” said Schock, who reiterated that animal owners bore the sole responsibility for controlling their pets.

Commissioners Carol York and Robert Hastings wanted to adopt in its entirety the draft animal control ordinance that was developed by an ad hoc committee during a series of meetings earlier this year. However, Les Perkins and Chuck Thomsen, who represent the less populated areas of the county, vetoed the idea after disagreeing that canines be leashed or kept “at heel” next to the owners leg during hikes and walks in outlying areas.

Schock was then called on to break the split decision and agreed that the leash law shouldn’t blanket the entire county.

After informing her peers that dog bites — an average of two to three per week — constituted a “huge” public safety issue, York was the sole dissenter in a subsequent motion to retain the former language that allows animals to roam unrestricted if they are in the company and under the voice command of the owner. Her suggestion that the $500 cap for victim restitution be lifted was included in the revised code to allow full reimbursement of all medical and veterinary bills resulting from a dog attack.

Even though the leash law was struck down, dog owners will face penalties for tethering their animals to objects outside of a store or coffee shop, currently a standard practice in downtown Hood River.

Under the new ordinance, wolves and wolf hybrids are prohibited and pet owners will be subject to penalties for not cleaning up feces left by their dog off its own premises. The court is also now allowed to require the defendant in an enforcement case to engage in mediation to resolve differences with the plaintiff.

Most of the other proposed changes were “housekeeping” to bring the county’s animal control ordinance into compliance with changes in state law. The updated dog laws will go into effect on May 1 to allow time for the county to educate citizens and visitors about the added restrictions.

The Animal Control Advisory Committee formed in early 2002 to update the dog laws passed in 1979. The group was comprised of law enforcement officials and community members.

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