In two public hearings late week, the Bingen/White Salmon community made one thing clear: the local government should not be in the business of banning specific breeds of dogs.
During the Bingen City Council meeting on Sept. 2 and the White Salmon City Council meeting on Sept. 3, the cities' respective dog ordinances were on the agenda for discussion, and local citizens had a lot to say.
About 35 citizens turned out for the Bingen council meeting in a special session at the Los Reyes restaurant meeting room. The next night, the White Salmon council heard from about the same number of people, and the consensus was all but unanimous. Although most speakers called for stricter measures to deal with problem dogs and stronger enforcement of existing ordinances, there was widespread opposition to banning specific breeds.
At the Bingen council session, a film crew from KATU-TV in Portland showed up, perhaps anticipating some verbal fireworks over the issue.
At the start of the meeting at Los Reyes, Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel made it clear that a breed-specific ban was unlikely.
"Banning certain breeds is very difficult to enforce, and that would be worse than no ordinance at all in my view," Prigel said.
Prigel added that he was taking a realistic view of the problem with dangerous dogs.
"We want to review our dog ordinances to prevent any incidents in the future, but nothing we do will ever prevent any incident from happening," he explained.
One of the first to speak was Bingen resident Barbara Hylton.
"I've had several incidents with a few different dogs in Bingen, but not one has been a pit bull," Hylton said. "I don't think a blanket banning is the right way to go. If you ban pit bulls and someone gets bit by a German shepherd, what situation do you have?"
"I would feel more comfortable leaving my granddaughter with that pit bull than with many humans," added Riley Dudley. "There is no way to generalize a pit bull. If people treat a dog properly, it shouldn't be a problem. I'd like everybody to consider that before passing a ban. It seems to me the dog breed is irrelevant. Owners are the ones to be held responsible. It should go back to the owner."
"I know Chihuahuas that will put you in a corner and tear you to pieces," added another speaker. "I walk my dog every day I don't know how many times I'm accosted by dogs running at us. It has to be pointed at the owner."
"My daughter thinks you're going to take her dog away. That dog happens to be her best friend," said another woman.
Several speakers also urged people not to leave their dogs chained up, and suggested that the council pass an ordinance against chaining dogs.
"You don't want a dog out on a chain. You're asking for more problems," one man said.
"It's an irresponsible person who leaves their dog chained up. When you do that, the dog doesn't like anybody," added another.
Lea Rachford, a candidate for Klickitat County Commissioner who lives in Husum, attended the meeting and praised the City Council members for investing in an animal control program.
"I commend the council for hiring an animal control officer," Rachford said. "The same services were offered to White Salmon, and they refused. This is so good for the city of Bingen."
Rachford added that pit bulls once had a reputation completely opposite of the way they are widely perceived today.
"In pioneer days, pit bulls were called `nanny dogs,' and left to care for children. They have an unusually high love for humans," she explained. "But later they were bred to fight bears in a pit."
Dr. Craig Vance from Alpine Veterinary Hospital in Bingen also attended the meeting, and was asked for his view on banning pit bulls.
Vance recommended that the city concentrate on "behavior-specific," not "breed-specific" ordinances.
"I would not make a blanket statement about any breed. Bans are well intentioned but misguided," Vance said.
Vance added that the city needed to reach those who were not inclined to attend a meeting about dogs.
"Everybody here is here because they are responsible dog owners," Vance said. "By definition, those who are not responsible won't be at any meeting like this."
Mayor Prigel said the city would have another public hearing on revamping its dog ordinances in early October.
"At that point, we'll decide whether to pass a new ordinance or not," he said.
At the White Salmon meeting, Mayor David Poucher said he wanted the citizens in attendance to help the council develop a new ordinance regarding dogs.
"We will not make a decision tonight," Poucher added.
Arianne Walker of Snowden told the council members she didn't want pit bulls banned.
"I'm a pit bull owner and a mother," Walker said. "My male pit bull is my childrens' best friend. I know there are a lot of mixed feelings for these dogs. But it's not the dog, it's the owner who didn't take care of it that is the problem. Banning a breed is unfair to dogs that are beloved family pets."
Terry Lucas agreed that it is the pet owners who have to take responsibility for their dogs.
"Fencing is the first thing they should put up if they have dogs, especially big dogs," he said. "I've seen all kinds of dogs bite."
Other speakers complained about lax enforcement of existing ordinances.
"I walk my dog on a leash, and I get charged about once a week. It's ridiculous. Leash laws really need to be enforced," said one White Salmon resident.
"I get attacked by strays all the time. Fencing and leash laws have to be enforced," said another. "Something has to be done. A walk should be relaxing, and I can't do that. It's just a nightmare. I'm going to start carrying a club."
White Salmon resident Leigh Hancock took a different view on the issue.
"When I heard about the attack in Bingen I just felt sick," Hancock said. "I realize pit bulls are beloved members of families. But the point is they are bred to do something different. They are bred to be more aggressive and better fighters. Not many dogs can attack four people and have all these people trying to fight them off and still keep coming. We need stronger laws and much tougher enforcement of them."
Lisa Wiltsie said stricter enforcement made more sense than banning a type of dog.
"I don't feel it's fair to pick out one breed," she said. "I don't want to see us jump the gun on certain breeds of dogs, because so many pit bull are not biters. I would rather see us educate people and get better enforcement."
Shasta Dierickx said she could not bear to see pit bulls outlawed in White Salmon.
"Our pit bull is part of my family. I could not tell my sisters they have to give up a part of the family," she explained. "I'd be very very upset; it would be awful to lose a family member because of discrimination put on certain breeds."
White Salmon City Council member Bob Landgren said the city needs to do a better job of licensing dogs.
"We have to protect our citizens," Landgren said.
Issues under consideration to enhance White Salmon's dog ordinances include the leash laws; requirements for fencing; tougher enforcement; making dog owners have liability insurance to cover attacks; placing warning signs on property where there are aggressive animals; legislating that a dog can't be walked in public by a person under 18; and defining precisely what constitutes a "dangerous dog."