Council gives new dog law final approval

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home City Council voted 5-1 last week to adopt an ordinance that will provide the Municipal Court judge more options to deal with nuisance dogs.

The council voted on the ordinance after the third reading of the proposed ordinance during its regular meeting on July 11. Voting yes were Susan Coleman, Mayor Greg Mahler, Dave Trask, James Goble and Diane Gerson. Lisa Gourley voted no.

Gourley previously said she was concerned about a 20-minute time limit on barking.

Under the ordinance, effective Aug. 10, police officers may cite dogs as public nuisances.

The judge may fine owners, and the ordinance gives the judge the power to order a dog removed from the city or re-homed. The judge also can declare a dog as dangerous and order a dog killed as outlined in state law.

The costs to carry out the judge’s orders will be placed as liens on the property of the dog owner.

“As we’ve said from Day One, it’s just another tool for officers to gain compliance with these animals,” said Police Chief Jeff Lynn. Police in Sweet Home respond constantly – nearly every day and often multiple times a day – to complaints about loose and barking dogs.

Lynn expects citations to be most common for repeat offenders.

“If somebody is allowing a dog to fall into that nuisance category, I would encourage officers to take steps, including citations, to fix the problem,” Lynn said.

The ordinance is intended to give the judge a means beyond fines to deal with nuisance dogs following complaints that the owner of a constantly barking dog in the 3rd Avenue area has been fined for it but has done nothing to quiet the dog.

“The reason this came forward is for that very cause,” said City Manager Ray Towry. “We actually sat down with the judge and asked the judge how we could better deal with it. That’s why in here now, the judge can take the animal if they don’t take care of the issue.”

Under the ordinance, a dog is considered a nuisance if it is unprovoked and bites a person or an animal or if it shows a propensity to bite.

Additionally, dogs are considered nuisances if they chase vehicles or people when not on the property of the owner, when they damage or destroy the property of persons other than the owner, if they scatter garbage other than that of the owner, a female in heat and running at large or when they trespass on private property other than the owner’s property.

A dog that habitually escapes confinement and trespasses on public or private property also is a nuisance. “Habitually” means to trespass more than twice.

Any dog that barks cumulatively for more than 20 minutes during any one-hour period when the barking is audible off the premises of the dog’s owner also is considered a nuisance.

If the Municipal Court finds that a dog is a nuisance, the judge may order the owner to remove the dog from the city within five days. If the owner fails to remove the dog, the judge may have the dog removed at the owner’s expense.

The judge can place reasonable restrictions on a dog, including sterilization, and the judge can order the dog be re-homed as an alternative to removing the dog from the city.

When a dog is found running at large, anyone may impound the dog, and anyone is permitted to kill a dog if it is an imminent threat to human life.

A police officer may kill a dog when it has been injured and no owner can be determined.

The ordinance prohibits kennels, which is any premises other than a veterinary clinic, pet store and city shelter, that houses four or more dogs 4 months of age or older.

Sweet Home resident Chase Bratton-Ralph criticized the ordinance.

“You guys finally got around to writing one,” she said. “I don’t like it.”

She opposes the restriction it includes on keeping a kennel.

“You have no way of securing more than two dogs at any one time because you only have two kennels,” she said.

She asked that the word provoked be defined regarding dogs that bite.

A dog that runs up to a gate, barks and jumps when a person approaches is responding in a natural way, Bratton-Ralph said.

The word is derived from state law, said City Attorney Robert Snyder, and those circumstances are something a judge would have to consider.

She said that five days to remove a dog was outrageous and suggested a nominal fee for a first-time offense, a larger fee for a second offense and impounding the dog after a third.

Bratton-Ralph also was concerned about officers killing injured dogs.

“What parameters will the police use to determine whether a dog should be shot?” she said. “Broken leg? Massive injuries? I agree with that. Broken leg? Not so much. This is why we need a shelter in this town.”

In other business, the council:

n Agreed to contract with Deanne Woodring of Government Portfolio Advisers for investment advisory services as an alternative to investing in the state Local Government Investment Pool.

The council is looking for a higher return on investment for its unused cash reserves.

The cost is $5,000 in the first year with a minimum fee of $12,500 annually in following years.

n Held the first reading of an ordinance updating and granting franchise agreement with Northwest Natural for gas service. The ordinance must be read twice more at upcoming regular meetings. After a third reading on Aug. 8, the council may vote to adopt the ordinance and approve the agreement.

n Approved street and park closures and restrictions for the Oregon Jamboree, scheduled for Aug. 4-6. The closures include Sankey Park and streets surrounding the event, including portions of 18th and 14th avenues.

The Jamboree also received various waivers and permits in the decision.

n Approved a street closure on Mimosa Circle for a National Nite Out Against Crime event by the local Neighborhood Watch.

n Approved a resolution setting salary schedules for non-union general city employees. The new schedule reinstates an accounting supervisor position last used in 1993 in place of an office manager 2 position. The change was reflected in the city’s 2017-18 budget.