What to do about loose and possibly dangerous dogs remains a controversial topic in White Salmon, as last week's City Council work session made clear.
In the wake of several citizens complaining of being bit or threatened by dogs running free, the issue dominated the June 3 session, which was attended by four of the five council members.
With Sgt. Bruce Brending of the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department on hand to discuss enforcement issues, council members reached a consensus that they could take some action even if an animal impound shelter does not get built soon.
"There are two things I suggest: Severely stiffen the monetary penalties for having loose dogs, and make it a flat fine for each and every offense," Brending advised.
Currently, the city's ordinances provide for a fine of no more than $29 for a violation.
Brending said heftier fines would get peoples' attention.
"A $29 ticket has no impact," he noted. "I'd like to see a $100 or $200 fine."
Mayor Roger Holen said he supported action by the council to give the police an enforcement tool through higher fines. As it stands, he said, people not in compliance figure that even if they get caught, the fine is no big deal.
"Look at the tools the City Council has provided, so the police can do their job better," Holen explained. "The next thing that has to be done is to find a place to incarcerate dogs. That's the only way to handle this."
"I think a $200 or $300 fine is definitely not out of order," said council member Penny Morris.
Holen added that the city is still considering working cooperatively with Hood River on an animal shelter that would serve Bingen, White Salmon, and Hood River.
"I talked with the Hood River administrator today (June 3)," Holen said. "They are still looking to put together a deal. A plan is somewhat moribund, but it's not dead."
Brending pointed out that the higher fines would give police officers more leverage in gaining compliance with ordinances related to dogs.
"Everything needs to be brought up to standards to show people we mean business," Brending explained.
Although the regulation has been largely ignored, a White Salmon ordinance requires all dog owners within the city limits to license their dogs every year.
"It is unlawful to keep or harbor a dog ... over four months of age within the city unless an animal license is procured for the animal annually from the animal control authority," reads city ordinance 6.04.020. The license is granted only after the owner shows that the dog has been vaccinated for rabies.
The city charges $7.50 a year for dog licenses, and some council members suggested $25 a year would be more appropriate.
According to members of the city staff, however, only about a dozen citizens have licensed their dogs.
Brending warned that even dogs perceived as "friendly" could attack, especially if they were running loose.
"Any dog will bite, given the right set of circumstances. That's the nature of the animal," Brending said. "But to label the dog dangerous, we have to have an incident. The dangerous dog statute is very specific. It takes an actual bite on a person."