Picture this scary scenario: A young mother is out walking her 5-week-old baby in a stroller on a public sidewalk in a residential neighborhood of Bingen. Two large dogs come barking and running at the stroller in a menacing manner.
"The dogs ran fairly forcefully toward the stroller, and were barking," said Teresa Schuemann, the woman pushing the stroller. "I guess it depends on what is considered an attack, but the dogs were barking enough that I felt threatened."
Schuemann, a member of the Bingen City Council, described the dogs as black and "some type of lab mix." She had a spray can of "mace" with her, and explained that she considered spraying the dogs with the mace, but was worried the spray could blow back toward her baby girl. So she simply aimed it at the dogs, and they retreated.
Although nothing more serious happened in this case, the incident is representative of an ongoing concern: dogs threatening or harassing people or other animals.
Animal complaints are certainly nothing new, and no surprise, to officers of the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department. Records show that there were 15 police calls related to animals -- primarily dogs -- in the month of April. There were 13 animal calls in March. The only category with more calls in April was for "public assists," which totaled 18.
The time spent on animal complaints has not escaped the attention of law enforcement officials.
"We get 10-15 calls a month, mostly for dogs running loose," said Bingen-White Salmon Police Chief Ned Kindler. "The problem we have -- and it's being worked on by the two mayors and the County Commissioners -- is that there is no facility to hold animals. There is no place to impound dogs, and we don't want to overload Alpine Veterinary Clinic. They've been very helpful, but are limited on space and we don't want to overburden them."
Kindler promised that citations will be issued when owners of offending dogs could be located. He added that the city councils of Bingen and White Salmon are in the process of standardizing the ordinances related to dogs to ensure that each city provides the same penalty for offenses.
"I expect the fine to be $50 or more for each violation," Kindler said. He added that he hopes a solution can be found soon.
Schuemann added that many of the dogs in Bingen run after cars and people on bikes, and wondered if the baby stroller's wheels attracted the dogs.
"I don't know that, but it's a possibility," she said.
She added that she did not report the incident to the police, although she said she now wishes she had.
Schuemann pointed out that she is not the only one who has had a problem.
"People around here are complaining that dogs are `packing up' and getting into trash. It's an ongoing problem here," she explained.
"It's slightly worse than last year," conceded Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel. "The west end of town seems to be having more of a problem right now."
Jan Brending, Bingen's city clerk, said she hears many complaints from the public, and hopes action is taken.
"We need an animal control officer," she stated.
Bingen is not the only community with a problem. In May of 2001, two pit bulls running loose in White Salmon went into a neighbor's yard and killed a smaller dog. Witnesses described the daylight attack as "horrific."
In that case, although the owner was cited, the dogs could not be located and were never impounded.
Kindler said the ideal situation would be an animal control officer, either as a member of the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department or the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office. Having a shelter relatively close is also critical.
Because of the costs, however, the cities cannot afford to fund a shelter, or hire an officer, on their own.
"Without county support, I don't know if the cities could afford to do it alone," Prigel pointed out.
"It's in the County Commissioners' hands," Kindler said. "This would be a good time for all three entities to come together, to work together to find a solution. This affects all of us."
Almost exactly a year ago, Police Chief Kindler and Klickitat County Sheriff Chris Mace outlined specifics of what would be required to have an efficient animal shelter. Their analysis called for a 30-foot by 20-foot building, with a dozen dog runs and storage space. The proposed shelter would have been located adjacent to the wastewater treatment plant in Bingen. A part-time on-call animal control officer was also identified as essential to having an effective program.
However, the plan was shelved due to the price tag, which White Salmon Mayor Roger Holen said was in excess of $100,000 for the shelter alone.
"The costs were more than anticipated," said Holen. "Limbo is a very good way to characterize where the project stands now."