By JESSE BURKHARDT
White Salmon and Bingen are now literally "on the same page" when it comes to enforcing laws against dangerous dogs.
On the evening of April 1, the White Salmon City Council voted 5-0 to approve a revamped animal control ordinance modeled almost exactly like the one passed last month by the Bingen City Council.
The new rules impose stricter standards on owners of dogs that harm people or domestic animals. It bans outright dogs that have been shown to be "dangerous" as the ordinance defines it.
At the beginning of last week's council session, Bingen-White Salmon Police Officer Jim Andring said the Police Department strongly supported the proposed ordinance.
"Bingen did a wonderful job of researching their ordinance, and it stands the test as to the legality and enforcement," Andring said. "The White Salmon ordinance is 99 percent the same as the city of Bingen's, and none of the content has been changed. My suggestion is that the council strongly consider approving this ordinance as written."
The key changes to White Salmon's ordinance regarding dogs are as follows:
Defines a "dangerous dog" as a dog of any breed that has inflicted a serious injury on any person without provocation, or killed a pet or livestock without provocation while off the owner's property;
Defines "potentially dangerous dog" as a dog that has inflicted unprovoked bites on humans or domestic animals or has chased or menacingly approached or charged people in any public area;
Dogs that have been classified as dangerous are not allowed to reside within the city limits of White Salmon. "No person, firm, corporation, organization, or department may possess, harbor, keep, or have in custody in the city a dangerous dog as dangerous dog is defined in the city's municipal codes," reads a section of the new ordinance;
Failure to comply with the ordinances is punishable by a $5,000 fine or up to one year in jail.
The decision was not without some controversy, however, as several citizens expressed reservations about the proposal during the public hearing before the council members voted.
Joy Gohl said she believed the Bingen ordinance on dogs did not address prevention of behaviors that can prevent dogs from turning aggressive.
"When citizens license their dogs, they need to know what's expected of them. The city needs to give them information on spaying and neutering when they register their dogs," Gohl said.
Gohl added that some of the terminology in the proposed ordinance should be changed.
"Use the word `aggressive' instead of `dangerous,'" she recommended. "And change the word `owner' to `guardian.' It's better to be the dog's guardian, because if you say owner, that means the dog is property that can be sold or discarded. These things are not addressed in Bingen's laws."
Gohl also pointed out that requiring "dangerous dog" signs to be posted on property where the dog is kept could lead to dogs being taunted or teased.
"That is just asking for trouble," Gohl explained.
Another local citizen, Tracey Morrison, wanted to make sure citizens know what is in the dog ordinance.
White Salmon Clerk/Treasurer Lori Kreps said copies of the ordinance are available at City Hall, and it is posted on the city of White Salmon's Web site. Also, the city will mail out copies of the ordinance to anyone who requests one.
Pat Marlow, who lives in the Snowden area, said dog owners need to be better educated.
"If we're going to work with some of these dogs, you have to work with people," she explained. "I don't see this addressed in the ordinance."
Marlow pointed out that in Hood River, if a dog gets into trouble, the judge can order the owner to attend training classes to learn how to prevent aggressive behavior.
City attorney Ken Woodrich responded that any judge has the discretion to order that type of action against a dog's owner.
White Salmon resident Shelley Baxter pointed out that the dog that attacked four people in Bingen last year was known to be dangerous, but still the attack happened.
"What do you see in this ordinance that would have prevented that terrible tragedy last year?" Baxter questioned.
White Salmon Mayor David Poucher said citizens need to report dog attacks or abuse of dogs as a way of taking responsibility to help prevent incidents like the one in Bingen.
"If you see something like this, you have a responsibility to notify somebody," Poucher said. "If you have a concern, call."
Kevin Herman of White Salmon said he supported banning certain aggressive breeds of dogs -- pit bulls in particular.
"Who says we can't ban breeds?" Herman asked. "They were bred for wrestling around with bulls -- that's why they're called pit bulls. I think it's ridiculous. We can really narrow it down to some dogs that have caused trouble."
Council member Brad Roberts responded that it was not necessarily easy to determine what breed a dog is, making enforcement very difficult.
"DNA sampling to determine the breed really becomes cumbersome," Roberts explained. "There is no way to enforce it, so we turned away from doing that. This ordinance is something we can enforce. We don't care what kind of dog it is, we just don't want people bit."
Woodrich added that he did not agree with those who contend that the city's new ordinance might discourage people from getting a dog.
"Certainly, bad dog behavior is being discouraged, but this is not discouraging owning dogs. I don't see that at all," Woodrich said. "If someone is a responsible dog owner, they will have no problem with this ordinance at all."
"Ninety-nine percent of dog owners will not be affected by this ordinance," added Officer Andring.
Another White Salmon resident, Katey Price, said she had been bitten by a dog on two different occasions, and supported the proposed ordinance.
"I don't mind barking dogs that much, but I draw the line when I get bitten. I'm really glad to see an ordinance like this," Price said.
Before the final vote to approve the new ordinance, the council members agreed to consider amending the ordinance to take into account some of the issues raised by citizens.
"We have had some interesting ideas presented, particularly about educating dog owners," Woodrich said. "We can pass this for now and work on amendments. That's no problem, we just need to make sure it's all clear and enforceable."
The new ordinance goes into effect as of this week.