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Ordinance would stiffen control of nuisance dogs


April 4, 2017

The Sweet Home City Council will consider a new ordinance next week that will give the Municipal Court judge the ability to order nuisance dogs out of town, and if the owner fails to comply, the ability to abate the nuisance and seize the nuisance dog.

The council will consider and may hold the first reading of the ordinance during its regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. on April 25 in the City Council Chamber in the City Hall Annex, located behind City Hall, 1140 12th Ave.

“This ordinance, as proposed, would allow the police officer and it would also allow Gina (Riley), our code enforcement officer, to write citations for dogs and cite them into Municipal Court,” City Attorney Robert Snyder told the Public Safety Committee during its regular meeting on March 28. “Right now, we don’t have too many ordinances on dogs. We took them out when we went to the Linn County dog control district.”

He said much of what’s in the proposed ordinance duplicates state law.

Members of the Public Safety Committee are councilors Ryan Underwood, chairman; Greg Mahler, mayor; and James Goble.

“It’s just an attempt to have teeth,” said Police Chief Jeff Lynn. “Hopefully, with that, the judge will be able to have some impact.”

Under current laws, the judge cannot abate a nuisance dog, he said.

Now, owners may be cited as nuisances in different places in the ordinance, Lynn said, but that connection is tenuous as dogs are not specifically addressed.

The ordinance will make officers more comfortable in citing owners of nuisance dogs, he said, addressing a growing problem for Sweet Home police officers.

“There’s no way a city our size should be seizing 100 dogs in a year,” Lynn said. That’s about how many loose dogs Sweet Home police captured last year.

“People have to be more responsible for their dogs.”

The ordinance will give owners an incentive to be more responsible with a $500 fine for a violation, Lynn said.

The goal isn’t to cite people into court, he said. It’s to educate them, and initially, owners would be warned.

The Linn County Sheriff’s Office took over animal control in the county in 2013.

With a two-person team, the Sheriff’s Office was unable to respond to calls in all of Linn County’s communities. LCSO supplied a kennel and food to police departments, including Sweet Home, in 2015 to allow them to house dogs until animal control officers can pick them up; and locally, police officers started responding to complaints about loose dogs.

After they started responding, the number of calls they received skyrocketed, from 251 animal calls in 2014 to 445 in 2015, more than one per day. The vast majority of the calls involve dogs. The remainder primarily are for cats and chickens. Police officers handle most of the calls, but chronic issues go to the code enforcement officer.

Earlier this year, Sweet Home Municipal Court Judge Larry Blake fined a woman $18,000 for keeping dogs that constantly bark. He hasn’t been able to do anything more with it, and those dogs reportedly continue to bark constantly, according to neighbors who approached the City Council about the problem last month.

Lynn said he remains in discussions with Linn County about providing education on responsible pet ownership and to provide opportunities for local licensing of dogs. Right now, Sweet Home residents must travel to Albany to license their dogs.

The Public Safety Committee approved of the proposal and moved it to the full City Council or consideration. Present at the meeting were Chairman Ryan Underwood, Mayor Greg Mahler and James Goble.

Key provisions in the proposed ordinance include the following:

- The proposed ordinance prohibits dogs from running at large in public. Dogs must be on a chain or leash of 10 feet or less. The ordinance contains an exception for dogs in obedience, retrieving or field training under the direct supervision of a handler in public park areas.

- Dogs must be licensed.

- No dog shall be allowed to be a public nuisance. Nuisance dogs include those that, unprovoked, bite a person or animal or show a propensity to do so; chase vehicles or persons; damage or destroy the property of anyone besides the owner of the dog; scatter garbage other than the dog’s owner’s garbage; trespass on private property other than the owner’s property or public rights of way; bark for more than 10 minutes in any one-hour period where the barking is audible off-premises; in heat and running at large; or habitually escape confinement and trespass on private or public property.

- By written notice, the Municipal Court shall order the owner or keeper a dog to remove the dog from the city permanently if the court finds that the dog is a nuisance, if the dog’s owner knew or should have known the dog created the nuisance and permitted the nuisance to continue or be repeated.

The notice will explain the cause, and the owner must confine the dog immediately and remove it from the city within five days.

- The proposed ordinance prohibits dog owners from allowing dogs to deposit solid waste matter on property other than that of the dog’s owner except if removed immediately by the owner.

- Any dog found running at large or kept as a public nuisance may be impounded by any police officer, animal control officer or private citizen.

- A dog may be summarily killed by any person if the dog constitutes an imminent threat to human life.

- A police officer may kill a dog when it has been injured and the identity of the owner cannot be determined.

The council must read the ordinance three times before making a decision on the ordinance. If the council moves forward with the ordinance, it will hold the final reading at its regular meeting on May 9, and the ordinance would take effect 30 days later.

For more information about the proposed ordinance or City Council, call the city manager’s office at (541) 367-8969.


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