Vancouver City Council reviews dangerous dog ordinance

A new one based on county’s could be voted on next month

By John Branton, Columbian Staff Reporter

Published:

 

Vancouver City Council, you’re going to need the wisdom of Solomon on this one.

How do you write an updated dog-control ordinance that declares them dangerous if they seriously hurt a person or animal — and also tries to declare some of them potentially dangerous before they cause serious harm?

And what about menacing behavior like growling or aggressive barking?

Would that make Fido potentially dangerous, or is he just doing his job to protect his family and scare away burglars?

“Dogs can be trained to be protective but not dangerous,” Councilwoman Jeanne Stewart said Monday afternoon during a workshop. The council met to discuss reviewing part of the city municipal code that hasn’t seen a major revision since the mid-1980s.

And let’s say a dog is declared dangerous if he does seriously hurt a child or other animal.

Should you go with a set of owner options besides euthanasia, like keeping the dog and buying a big insurance policy, a secure kennel, an expensive special license or spaying and neutering?

Or go straight to the euthanasia?

“I do not see a reason to have a dangerous dog within the city limits,” said Councilwoman Jeanne Harris.

An unprovoked attack by three pit bulls on a 9-year-old boy near Harney Elementary School in May made the council ready to debate a ban on the breed within city limits. The boy was bitten in several places but was expected to make a full recovery, Animal Control Manager Paul Scarpelli said at the time.

After pressure from pit bull owners, the council later decided against a breed-specific ordinance.

In an earlier meeting on the topic, city staff were asked to find out how other cities deal with the problem.

In Seattle, for example, most dangerous animals are euthanized, but the owners can pay for their upkeep at a secure animal shelter or remove them from the city.

It’s a gross misdemeanor to keep a dangerous dog in Seattle and, if that dog causes injuries again, the owner can be charged with a Class C felony.

By the end of Monday’s hourlong meeting, the council seemed to favor adopting Clark County’s ordinance, to keep the rules consistent for officers with Clark County Animal Protection & Control who work in both Vancouver and the unincorporated areas.

That would mean adding the ‘potentially dangerous’ category to city code, a big change for the city.

Potentially dangerous dogs also might have to be spayed or neutered to make them less aggressive, something new to Clark County and Vancouver.

Microchips could also be required, so animals can be tracked and identified.

The council has received advice from staff members and the Clark County Animal Control Advisory Board.

A key, officials say, is holding owners responsible — and providing tools for animal control staff to use, ranging from educating owners to taking criminal action.

Vancouver’s Chief Assistant City Attorney, Judy Zeider, now must write an ordinance that could have its first reading as soon as Nov. 14.

The second reading, with a public hearing and possible council vote, could occur as soon as Nov. 21.

John Branton: 360-735-4513 or john.branton@columbian.com.