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City plans focus on dog licensing

Penalty: $135 fine

Scofflaws beware: the city of White Salmon is about to crack down on the many residents who have not bothered to license their dogs.

In the aftermath of the July incident in Bingen in which four adults were attacked by a pit bull, the cities of Bingen and White Salmon have been searching for ways to toughen their ordinances to reduce the likelihood of dog attacks. The cities have decided that one way to get the attention of dog owners is to start enforcing the licensing requirements.

White Salmon's ordinances on dogs are clear on the licensing requirement: "It is unlawful to keep or harbor a dog or otherwise be the custodian of any dog over the age of 6 months within the city unless an animal license is procured for the animal from the animal control authority," reads Chapter 6.04.040.

But it's clear that most dog owners in White Salmon haven't been paying attention to the city's rules: White Salmon Mayor David Poucher pointed out that only 25 city residents currently have valid dog licenses for their pets.

"There will be an emphasis on compliance," said Poucher. "We're encouraging people to get the dog licenses now, and it would be nice if people with dogs start coming in voluntarily. We're going to make this a focus."

In two meetings last week, residents of Bingen and White Salmon alike stressed that it is the "irresponsible" dog owners -- the ones who don't bother to even license their dogs -- who are most likely to own problem dogs.

Poucher agreed.

"Our problems are coming from people with unlicensed dogs," he said.

As a result, the Bingen/White Salmon Police Department will now begin making this a priority. When they see dogs in a yard, they will check the address to see if the dog has been licensed.

"It's simple," explained Bingen-White Salmon Police Chief Bruce Brending. "Public Works employees will provide addresses where they believe dogs are being kept. Officers will make contact at the residence to verify if the owner/renter has a dog, and if the dog is licensed. If the dog is not licensed, the officer will let the owner know there is a city ordinance requiring all dogs to be licensed. A list of addresses with unlicensed dogs will be developed, and follow-up will be done within a week or two."

If the animal is still unlicensed at that point, Brending warned, a citation for $135 will be issued.

"They're going to knock on doors and ask residents to get their dog licensed," Poucher said. "Don't be surprised if they come knocking on your door. We only have 25 people complying, so it will be pretty easy for police officers to look at that list."

Dog owners will be given two business days to comply with the license requirements. If they fail to do so, police can issue citations.

In White Salmon, dog licenses cost $9 per year for spayed or neutered dogs, and $25 a year for unaltered dogs. Senior citizens pay $5 or $17 per year, respectively.

Proof of rabies vaccination is required to get the license.

"I encourage people to be responsible and get their dogs licensed. It's cheaper than the fine," Poucher said.

Jan Brending, city administrator for the city of Bingen, said Bingen is also encouraging residents to get their dogs licensed by putting notices to the effect in the city's newsletter and on utility bills.

"We're pro-actively putting our license requirements on everything we can," Brending said. "Since we hired our animal control officer, we are getting more compliance than ever before."

Bingen City Council member Laura Mann said part of the problem was with newer residents who may not know of the city's ordinances about dogs.

"We need to get the information out. New residents need to know our laws," Mann said.

Poucher added that citizens need to report it when they see aggressive behavior by dogs.

"If you have a dog chasing you, give us a call at City Hall or report it to the police," Poucher said. "People knew what was going on in Bingen, but nobody documented it. If a dog appears to be aggressive, those are the ones we want to hear about."

Brending said leash laws would also be getting more enforcement.

"Citizens who allow their dogs off the leash while walking are subject to the same fine -- for failure to restrain your dog -- as an owner who just lets their dog out to run loose," Brending said. "Voice control is not an exemption from the requirement that the dog has to be restrained."


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