Canine issues continue for Sweet Home cops; officials planning ‘dogfest’

Sean C. Morgan

The high volume of dog-related calls dealt with by Sweet Home police officers shows no signs of abating, and city officials have come up with a plan to do something about it.

The number of dog-related calls to police remained close last year to what they were in 2016.

Last year City Council members adopted a new ordinance that was intended to give the city and Municipal Court judge more tools to deal with problem dogs running loose or barking constantly.

Under the ordinance, the judge can go beyond fines and order a dog removed from a home.

Police received 453 calls related to dogs in 2017, a 7.5-percent reduction from 490 in 2016. Sweet Home Police Department received 426 calls in 2015, the year it began handling dog calls locally.

Before that, the city received 290 calls in 2014, 160 in 2013 and 157 in 2012.

“I wanted to minimize our dog intakes,” said Police Chief Jeff Lynn. “We didn’t. We still have the calls. We’re still taking the dogs.”

SHPD took custody of 100 dogs in 2017, up from 97 in 2016 and 37 in 2015.

Police officers issued eight dog-related citations last year, down from 12 in 2016 and 11 in 2015.

In the upcoming year, Lynn said the department would like to encourage officers to take more enforcement to get those numbers down.

But police have the discretion to determine whether a citation is necessary, he said.

The problem isn’t huge in terms of time, but it does add up.

Officers spent an average of 11 minutes 26 seconds on each call, Lynn said. That’s 87 hours of officer time during the year, a little more than two work weeks.

It amounts to five calls every four days.

“We don’t need to spend two weeks dealing with people’s dogs,” Lynn said. “I’d just as soon not have somebody spending two weeks dealing with dogs.”

Just a little less than half of the calls, 223, were for dogs at large, a substantial increase over the previous two years – 161 in 2016 and 174 in 2017. The number of stray dogs reported varied highly in 2016 though, with 104 dogs reported as strays, while last year 39 strays were reported and in 2015, 44 were reported.

“I was hoping for a reduction. We still have to do some work on that.”

Among other issues, reports of barking dogs fell from 92 in 2016 to 79 in 2017.

Police responded to 32 dogs left in hot cars last year, down from 37 times in 2016.

Eleven dog bites were reported last year, down from 21 each in 2016 and in 2015.

Lynn is looking for a different way to tackle the issues with dogs this year, and SHPD is planning to partner with Connie DeBusschere, a clerk with Sweet Home Municipal Court, who is a dog trainer and enthusiast.

Together, they are planning dog events that will focus on responsible dog ownership, Lynn said. “And also to roll out and promote our new canine program at the same time.

“Connie’s got some really cool ideas.”

Maybe more importantly, DeBusschere wants to do it “because it’s fun,” she said. The event, a community “dogfest,” will feature contests and provide information, including resources, for dog owners and dogs that need help. Vendors, trainers and dog clubs will be invited to attend.

The event will also serve as a fund-raising tool for the Police Department’s canine program, she said.

“I’m trying to get stuff for the dog kennel as well.”

The event is still early in the planning phase, DeBusschere said. It may be later in the summer, but she will have to coordinate the event with her schedule and other events. DeBusschere runs another dog event at her home during the summer.