In a unanimous decision, the Bingen City Council followed through with its determination to increase penalties against the owners of dogs running loose.
Following a public hearing on the issue during its Dec. 19 meeting, the council voted 5-0 to make it a misdemeanor, instead of a civil infraction, if multiple dogs owned by the same person or from the same household are out on the loose.
Bingen council member Betty Barnes made it clear to the group of citizens that came to the meeting that the ordinance was not targeted at any specific dogs or dog owners.
"This is not an isolated event," Barnes explained. "We are talking about all dogs, not just your dogs."
"This change would affect everyone," added Mayor Brian Prigel.
The new ordinance specifies that more than one dog must be loose before the misdemeanor penalties would apply.
Anthony Connors, Bingen's city attorney, explained that clause was added because one dog by itself normally does not create the same level of trouble as dogs that pack up.
"I think one dog at large could happen a lot," Connors said. "And one dog usually doesn't create the problems two or more dogs do. If Household A has one dog and Household B has one dog and they get out, this ordinance does not apply."
The council members agreed the ordinance, while not covering everything, was an important step in getting more control over the issue.
"It's a quick patch," said Barnes. "This is our city attorney's best plan, and I think we should go with it."
"This is one way to deal with this," agreed Laura Mann. "It has to be at least two dogs from one household."
"I see this as, people who have dogs have to take responsibility for their dogs. That's why I support this," said Terry Trantow.
The new ordinance, No. 06-14-535 of the Bingen Municipal Code, reads as follows: "Unless the dog is on a leash or in a vehicle controlled by the owner of the dog, it shall be unlawful for any person or legally cognizable entity owning or having custody of any dog to have or allow a dog to congregate or run with another dog of the same ownership or from the same household upon any public street, highway, public place, or upon private property not owned by or lawfully possessed by one other than the owner or custodian of the dog. A violation of this section is a misdemeanor and punishable pursuant to Bingen Municipal Code."
A misdemeanor in this case would be punishable by a maximum of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Bingen-White Salmon Police Chief Bruce Brending, who attended the council meeting, said he has been bitten twice by out of control dogs he was trying to restrain.
"Absolute zero tolerance of this type of thing would be wonderful, if we had the time and training, but we don't," Brending said.
He added that he was involved in an incident earlier in December that resulted in two loose dogs being injured and having to be taken to the vet.
"Two 150-pound dogs were biting each other, and the owner, who was watching, wasn't inclined to get involved," Brending said. "Both dogs were injured."
Mayor Prigel noted that Hood River County is in the process of building an animal shelter, and he pledged to find out whether Bingen could use the new facility under a contract basis. As it is, the nearest animal shelter is in Goldendale.
"I will contact Hood River County to see if they can share their facility, which is being completed in Odell. Going to Odell would be much better than going to Goldendale," Prigel said. "Certainly, in the near term we will open a dialogue with Hood River and see if they can contract with us."
Brending pointed out that even with a shelter available, police cars were not equipped to handle dogs.
"Police officers don't have the equipment, and we don't like to put them in police cruisers," Brending said.
Jennifer Panko, one of the citizens attending the Dec. 19 hearing, told the council members that a dog had threatened her recently.
"We were out walking, and a dog chased us onto our property. It scared me enough that I had to lift my little girl up off the ground to get her away from the dog," she explained.
Panko then asked why the city was not doing more to address the problem.
"If it is such a problem and has been for a long time, why don't you provide your officers with resources," she asked.
"Essentially, it's a money issue," Prigel responded. "And dogs don't always have respect for the law."
"But if a 4-year-old girl gets hurt, it will seem petty not to have provided them with any equipment," Panko responded. "All of you should be trying to get something to take care of that so someone doesn't get hurt."
The new ordinance goes into effect as of Jan. 3, 2007.