Increasing canine problems dog police, prompt calls for change

Sean C. Morgan

Sweet Home Municipal Court Judge Larry Blake last week found a Third Avenue woman guilty of violating city codes because her dogs bark constantly.

The woman told the judge she doesn’t like the barking any more than her neighbors do and she is getting rid of one of the dogs, the one that causes the biggest problem. Blake told her to return to court later this month for an update. Her neighbors will return and give him an update from their perspectives.

“Every citizen has a right to the quiet enjoyment of their property,” Blake told the woman.

The number of complaints about barking dogs or for dogs running loose began increasing rapidly about two years ago. Police officers and the code enforcement officer are regularly responding to the complaints.

Sweet Home resident Chase Bratton-Ralph told the City Council last week during its regular meeting that the city should find some money and fund a program to deal with these issues. She doesn’t believe police officers should be chasing loose dogs.

The Sweet Home Police Department has definitely picked up more work when it started handling complaints about animals, said Code Enforcement Officer Gina Riley. The number of those calls started increasing as news reports and word got out that the department had started responding to barking and loose dogs.

The city Public Safety Committee, a subgroup of council members who advise the council as a whole on safety issues, has asked Police Chief Jeff Lynn to work with Linn County Sheriff’s Office Animal Control and look into options for responding to the complaints.

Lynn said he has reached out to Capt. Kevin Guilford, patrol division commander with the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, about animal control issues.

The issues aren’t unique to Sweet Home, Lynn said.

“We’re also talking with Lebanon on some ways we can help out with the cities,” said Guilford, who supervises the two-member LCSO animal control team.

LCSO took over animal control in 2013 on a temporary basis, Guilford said. By the end of 2013, the county commissioners asked the Sheriff’s Office to take over the program permanently. Today, LCSO has contracts with seven incorporated cities, without police departments, in Linn County to handle animal complaints.

LCSO took over the program because deputies handle animal crime reports, like animal abuse and neglect cases, Guilford said. In the past, citizens would call animal control with a complaint, and animal control would refer the caller to the Sheriffs Office. On other calls, LCSO would refer callers to animal control.

Handling all of the calls within the same agency is “better for the citizen,” Guilford said. “It’s more seamless for the citizens.”

Sweet Home police did not generally respond to complaints about dogs prior to the switch of responsibility for animals to LCSO. Prior to that, two-person animal control team responded to reports in Sweet Home.

“In the past, it’s just been damage control,” Guilford said.

After the takeover, the cities of Sweet Home, Lebanon and Albany brought dogs at large to LCSO Animal Control, Guilford said. Animal Control, under the Sheriff’s Office umbrella, has two certified staff members to handle them, and they cannot respond to pick up each dog. It’s also a problem for Sweet Home and Lebanon police departments, which must send officers to the Sheriff’s Office in Albany with the dogs.

LCSO supplied the two departments with kennels and food for the dogs, Guilford said, and Animal Control can pick up the animals when it’s in town.

Since that point, the number of animal complaints handled by Sweet Home Police Department has skyrocketed, the vast majority involving dogs.

Sweet Home police received 251 animal calls in 2014. In 2015, it received 445 calls. The reports range from barking and dogs at large to bites, and Lynn said the vast majority is dog-related.

Lynn said the number of calls started increasing in March 2015 when the kennel was installed.

“It’s actually much more than the numbers,” Lynn told the council last week. “We actually caught 100 dogs (last year).”

He would like to see that number cut in half this year, he told the council. To get there will require education and stricter enforcement.

“Chief Lynn has assigned a couple of officers to work with our office,” Guilford said. They’ll work with Animal Control to find ways the two agencies can work with each other.

“Sgt. (Jason) Ogden is leading the charge on our end,” Lynn said. Officer Sasha McDonald is assisting him.

In the near term, they want to get word out to people about licensing and license renewals, Guilford said, and they soon will send out an informational flier by mail to Sweet Home residents about the requirement. It will include a grace period for getting dogs licensed.

“We’ve got to find a way that we improve and educate the public on responsible pet ownership,” Lynn said.

Animal Control will join those efforts by attending community events during the year, Guilford said. It will bring a mobile licensing station to Sweet Home and help provide education for responsible pet ownership.

Right now, licensing is handled in Albany at the Sheriff’s Animal Control facility at 3008 Ferry St. SW. Sweet Home residents can also complete the process by mail.

Lynn believes that an easier local licensing process may help address dog-related problems, and Guilford said the agency is working on an online process. Information about licensing is available at linnsheriff.org/animal-control/licensing-laws.

Lynn said he has three goals: the first two are promoting responsible pet ownership and improved access to licensing.

“The final piece is looking at the possibility of redefining our codes or rewriting our animal code,” he said. City staff members are actively working on a draft ordinance proposal along with options and ideas. The draft will go to the Public Safety Committee for review, after which a proposed ordinance could reach the full City Council for consideration.

“Primarily, it’s going to take some active enforcement,” Lynn said. “People have to be responsible for their animals. I don’t think the community wants to pay officers to chase around dogs.”

At some point, it will get expensive to allow animals to run free, Lynn added.

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