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Strong Action Needed

Editorial for Aug. 7, 2008

Strong action needed now

The July 18 dog attack that sent four Bingen residents to the hospital was outrageous and intolerable. Citizens in the community should not have to wonder or worry when a pit bull or other vicious dog may jump them -- especially when they are standing on their own property.

First, we want to offer our support and concern for the four who were injured in this savage attack: Graciela Sanchez, Rosario Rincon, Mayra Sanchez, and Silviano Sanchez. We hope they recover fully, and soon. What they suffered was painful and traumatic, and there was no excuse for it.

And as terrible as this incident was, it could have been even worse: Someone could have been killed.

As citizens of the community, we want to express our outrage that, in April, the same dog that attacked the Sanchez family in Bingen had bitten two other residents of the same neighborhood. They too had to go to the hospital for treatment.

Something is terribly wrong with our city ordinances when a dog can severely injure two people, yet the city does not seize the dog to make sure no one else is attacked. The city has to share some of the responsibility for what happened, because its ordinances were lax.

No one should blame the police, however. They can only follow the rules set out by the respective city councils. In this case, all they could do after the April attack was list the dog as a "potentially dangerous dog."

This event has to be a final wake-up call for both Bingen and White Salmon -- and to the city of White Salmon in particular.

Bingen, to its credit, recently took the initiative to get a handle on this long-simmering problem. The city signed a deal with the Goldendale Police Department that provides for an animal control officer on duty in Bingen a couple days a week.

Although that did not stop this attack, it shows that Bingen is serious about investing in the tools necessary to resolve this issue. And after the attack, the city had someone to call on to handle impounding the dog -- as well as a facility to take the animal.

White Salmon had the same opportunity to contract with the same animal control officer Bingen employs, but, citing costs, has so far declined to do so.

That's absurd and short-sighted. As we pointed out in an earlier editorial (The Enterprise, March 6, 2008) The $15,000 annual cost to have an animal control officer in town once or twice a week -- and on-call at all times -- is minimal compared to the possible tragedies unregulated dogs can cause.

There's yet another huge factor: The contract for an animal control officer includes access, at no additional cost, to a shelter in Goldendale where impounded animals can be housed.

Further, by having an officer patrolling, educating residents about the rules, and enforcing the city's dog ordinances, who knows how many incidents may be prevented -- and of course, that is always the best way to deal with problems. Reacting afterwards is insufficient, as the wounds of four citizens of Bingen will attest.

If White Salmon had a part-time officer assigned to animal control duties, that officer could enforce licensing, other regulatory requirements for dogs, and deal with dogs on the loose. Enforcing licensing requirements and/or fining those not in compliance would actually bring in a bit of revenue, effectively cutting the city's costs even further.

The bottom line is, White Salmon should not make any more excuses: An animal control officer is a necessity.

In their respective city ordinances, the Bingen City Council and the White Salmon City Council need to take immediate action regarding dogs that charge and bite people. There should be no grace period for dogs that attack -- no dog should be allowed one free attack on a human being!

Of course, the same standards should not apply if a dog is on its own property and bites a trespasser; those cases would need to be reviewed in an entirely different manner. But in cases where a hostile dog is running loose around our neighborhoods, threatening people and their pets, let's not wait for a second attack before acting. That's crazy.

Elected officials in Bingen and White Salmon alike (and Klickitat County as a whole, for that matter) need to take a lesson from what happened in Bingen on July 18. Before someone is killed by an aggressive dog, local animal control ordinances need to be strongly tightened.

JB

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