WASHOUGAL — More than 60 people braved wet conditions Friday to lend their support to a no-kill animal shelter in a monthslong dispute with its industrial neighbor.
Last fall, the two neighbors at the Port of Camas-Washougal began trading accusations about the amount of noise emanating from the shelter. Northwest Underwater Construction, whose southern border abuts the shelter, alleged that relentless barking emanating from the dog kennels was a nuisance; the shelter countered by saying a high-pitched siren the company installed on top of a fence separating the properties — intended to silence the barking with a high-pitched keen — disturbed the dogs, and people, by blaring noise.
Holding placards with slogans like “Stop Hate’N the Hounds” and “We were here first,” supporters of the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society came out in force to picket Northwest Underwater Construction for what they called “bully tactics,” including videotaping the outside of the shelter’s building.
“I can’t stand bullies,” picketer Caroline Reiswig said. A six-month shelter volunteer, she said the dispute between the neighbors had only gotten worse during her time working with the dogs. “For months, (the company) has done nothing but harass us.”
News of the demonstration spread quickly on Facebook shortly after picket organizer Kristin Gard posted a notice about it a week ago.
Gard runs a Portland-based rescue group and organized the demonstration as a way of consolidating support for the shelter.
The shelter’s board members and paid staff did not participate in the protest. Instead, they stayed in the shelter down the road and sold T-shirts to pickets.
The owner of Northwest Underwater Construction, Jesse Hutton, was unavailable for comment. An employee who answered the company’s phone Friday said Hutton “was out of town.”
In a written statement provided to The Columbian, the company said it was “disappointed” in its neighbor’s actions.
“Regardless of any protest, we remain committed to addressing concerns with shelter operations by further working with the city and shelter management,” the statement said.
The company alleges that persistent barking at the shelter has been disruptive to its operation.
City is involved
Over the months, the ongoing conflict has had a spillover effect in Washougal.
The city got involved in the dispute last fall, spending around $8,000 installing a sound-dampening wall between the properties and on an animal control officer who’s occasionally stationed at the shelter.
But one entity that’s stayed out of the fray, despite both properties’ being located on its land, is the Port of Camas-Washougal.
The port considers itself a third party in the row, said port spokesman Jack Hardy. He said the port’s long-term plan is to let the city forge the way in building middle ground between the quarreling neighbors.
“We’re taking a wait-and-see approach and hope they reach an amicable resolution,” Hardy said.
As pickets waved their signs and took pictures Friday, many drivers honked their horns in support.
Dressed in snorkeling gear and holding a pro-shelter sign, picket Jay Elder said he came to the demonstration because he’d adopted a dog from the shelter three years ago. Since then, he’s supported the shelter financially.
He said he doesn’t understand why the owners of the company are complaining about the noise now, considering they knew they were moving next door to a long-time shelter.
“We’re questioning why he moved in next to a kennel and then complained about it,” Elder said. “It would be like me moving in next to an airport and complaining about the jet noise.”
Mark Fruechtel, who sits on the shelter’s board, said he was tired of the dispute.
He wants the neighboring company to be successful, but he doesn’t want it to come at the expense of the work the shelter does.
He said he doesn’t want the company to move.
“We want the company to stay here, really,” he said.