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City Council to consider new problem dog ordinance


May 30, 2017

A proposed ordinance that would regulate problematic dogs is nearly ready for the City Council’s consideration.

The Public Safety Committee discussed the proposed ordinance during its regular meeting on May 23. It previously had reviewed and recommended that the council approve a draft of the ordinance.

After that, people attended a City Council meeting and wanted to provide input into the proposed ordinance, said City Attorney Robert Snyder. Since then, they have talked to the city manager, and Snyder has made minor changes and corrected typos. The ordinance would provide alternatives to the Municipal Court judge in dealing with cases involving problematic dogs.

The proposed ordinance will more specifically deal with dogs than the current ordinance does, addressing ongoing issues with loose dogs and barking.

For the first time, it would include a provision requiring owners to clean up their dog’s waste, Snyder said. It expands options allowing the judge to order a dog in violation of the ordinance to be removed from the city.

It addresses how many minutes a dog may bark without violating the ordinance, Snyder said; at this point that limit is 20 minutes.

The ordinance parallels state law, Snyder said.

Connie DeBusschere, an expert in dog obedience and a clerk at Sweet Home Municipal Court who lives outside the city limits, urged the committee not to set a particular time limit on barking dogs and to list alternatives the judge may use instead of removing a dog from the city.

DeBusschere has operated an obedience training business, raising and training many dogs. She has participated and helped organize many types of dog competitions.

“I’ve been in dogs my whole life,” she said.

She said she looked at ordinances in other towns, dog-friendly towns that have dog parks, trails and pathways, she said. Those include Bend, Corvallis and Eugene. None of them place a time limit on barking dogs.

“Realistically, you have to ask yourself what’s causing the dog to bark,” DeBusschere said. Dogs bark for different reasons. Some barks are an alert. They bark at cats. They may be stressed or scared, and they may bark because they are bored.

In some cases, she wants her dogs to bark, she said. “I wouldn’t put a number on it. When I lived in town, there was some scary people went by.”

She didn’t mind her dogs barking, she said. She even encouraged it to an extent.

“That constant barking is that boredom bark,” DeBusschere said. “Why is the dog bored? What’s its home life like?”

Do the owners leave them tied up all day, returning home and feeding them at the end of the day? she asked. What type of dogs are they? Are they high-energy?

Dogs can stress like humans do, she said, and they can go through separation anxiety. Owners can work with them in different environments to decrease barking.

Toys are a possible solution, DeBusschere said.

“If the owner will take the steps to help the dog, they can, in most cases, resolve the situation,” she said. “The people who can’t help their dogs, maybe they don’t deserve their dogs.”

In those cases, there may be less drastic measures than removing the dog from the city, she said. They can be moved to a new home and it may solve the problem.

Moving a dog can make a difference, DeBusschere said, but any dog may bark all day. Her competition dogs are active. When they don’t get their exercise, they’ll start barking.

DeBusschere suggested that the judge could order owners to take their dogs to a training class as well.

The state law uses the word “continually” to deal with barking, Snyder said, but a time constraint shows a starting point and a stopping point for the activity.

“I agree with the timeline thing,” said James Goble, a city councilor and member of the committee. “I don’t want to hear somebody’s dog bark all the time.”

The ordinance doesn’t require the judge to remove dogs from the city, Snyder said. That is one of the more serious steps the judge can take in response to a problem. Nothing in the ordinance stops the judge from re-homing a dog.

Snyder said he could include those options, and Goble said he would like to see those options listed in the ordinance.

Most important is educating the community on responsible dog ownership, she said, educating owners on how to deal with barking, how to entertain their dogs when they’re not home.

“You can turn them around,” DeBusschere said – even some aggressive dogs.

Snyder said he will modify the proposal and then take it to the City Council for review and a decision.

Present at the meeting were councilors Goble and Susan Coleman.