Dog calls up slightly this year, but complaints about barking down substantially

Sean C. Morgan

Sweet Home police appear to be about as busy as ever with dog-related calls, after five years of handling most of the city’s canine problems, but the number of complaints about barking dogs has dropped substantially from last year.

Based on projections, “there’s a little bit of an increase in the total number of calls,” said Sgt. Chris Wingo, and Sweet Home Police Department will respond to about 505 dog-related calls.

“We definitely feel the burden of the call load,” Wingo said. “It can be frustrating for our officers. We would like to see a different program in place, where police don’t have to see such a large role in dog matters.”

But in Linn County, “it’s just part of community safety” and is “part of the work we do,” Wingo said. Other police agencies also deal with the same heavy call loads involving dogs. Some have community resources officers who respond.

Until 2014, police referred most dog-related calls to Linn County Animal Control, Wingo said. SHPD’s policy prohibited the transport of dogs in patrol cars, and the department didn’t have a kennel.

Sweet Home police began picking up stray dogs mid-year in 2014 after Linn County Animal Control provided a kennel and food to the Police Department to help cope with complaints about dogs.

In 2017, the City Council adopted an ordinance that changed the way police cite owners for violations related to dogs. Previously, they had been cited into the county Justice Court. Under the new ordinance, they began being cited into Sweet Home Municipal Court.

Prior to 2014, police handled about 160 calls annually related to dogs, according to Police Department statistics. That number increased to 290 in 2014, and then in 2015, police began handling between 400 and 500 calls annually. The majority involve stray dogs and dogs at large, along with a significant number of calls for barking.

Wingo said stray dogs are those for which spolice cannot identify an owner, while with dogs at large the owner has been identified.

In the first three quarters of this year, police have handled 379 calls related to dogs. At that rate, police will respond to 505 calls 2019, 15 more than they did in 2018 and 2016. The police had 453 calls in 2017 and 426 in 2015.

In 2018, 208 calls were for dogs at large, 65 for stray dogs and 118 for barking dogs.

In the first three quarters of 2019, police have responded to 218 dogs at large, 38 stray dogs and 32 barking dogs. At the same rate, the police will finish the year with 290 calls for dogs at large, 51 stray dogs and 43 barking dogs.

In 2015, they responded to 174 dogs at large, 77 barking dogs and 83 stray dogs.

Among the statistics, police also categorize dog-related calls as bites, left in a hot car and other.

“It looks like we’re citing people at a higher rate,” Wingo said. Last year, police wrote seven citations related to dogs. This year, they’ve cited seven in the first three quarters. Four years ago, they cited 11.

Police primarily respond to calls about dogs, Wingo said, but officers will initiate a call when they see a loose dog.

Upon responding to a call for a loose dog, “we’ll hold the dog here and try to find the owner,” Wingo said. “If we can’t find the owner, Linn County Animal Control will come and pick it up.”

Police held 98 dogs in the kennel last year. In the first three quarters of this year, police have held 70 dogs, on track for 93 by the end of the year. In 2015, they held 37 dogs, and in 2015, they held 97.

The first time a canine ends up in doggie jail, the officers try to educate the owners, Wingo said. “When it reoccurs, we say this person’s not being a responsible pet owner.”

That’s when police officers may cite someone, he said.

“At this point in time, we’re still just working with pet owners and taking it each individual case at a time.”

Police cannot take a blanket approach in general, he said. Their responses need to fit the specific situation.

Police are generally able to identify an owner, Wingo said. “The Facebook groups have helped us out a lot.”

Most of the time, a dog problem only happens once, and the owner finds a solution, Wingo said.

“Our goal, like with traffic, is the same. We enforce traffic laws to make the community safer and generate compliance.”

The number of reports of barking dogs has decreased quite a bit, Wingo said. He is not sure why that is.

“Sometimes it has do with neighborhood dynamics,” as residents move in or out.

When police respond to a complaint about barking dogs, they typically don’t find the owner at home. They leave business cards behind with the expectation the owner will call the officers back.

That happens probably half the time, Wingo said. Most of the time, when police talk to the owner, the problem gets solved.

Often, the owner is away from home and doesn’t realize the dog is barking, he said. Sometimes, when the owners are not responsive and police respond to additional calls for barking dogs, they’ll cite the owner “so they take it more seriously.”

Police also handle quarantine orders after a dog has bitten someone.

Last year, they responded to 13 reported dog bites. This year, in the first three quarters, they responded to nine dog bites. If that rate continues, they’ll respond to 12 by the end of the year. They responded to 21 dog bites in 2015 and 2016.

Typically, a dog bites someone in the family or a friend, Wingo said. When it happens, police issue a quarantine order, which stays in effect for 10 days. The Linn County Health Department monitors the dog to ensure it does not have rabies.

Police officers sometimes respond to reports of dogs left in hot cars, Wingo said. Most of the time, the dog shows no signs of distress, but officers do talk to owners about what could happen to their dogs when they’re left in a hot car. In some cases, it’s not really a hot day.

Police responded to 37 reports of dogs left in a hot car last year. In the first three quarters of 2019, they responded to 26, which is on track to about 32 by the end of the year. They responded to 27 in 2015.