By JESSE BURKHARDT
The White Salmon City Council has officially ended the Police Department's police dog program.
On the evening of March 16, the council voted 5-0 to "surplus" the dog named "Justice," a German shepherd that joined the police force in 2009.
The K9 program had been strongly resisted by the council, which cited budgetary as well as liability concerns in taking the action to cut the program.
An effort to allow private donations to fund the K9 program was met with resistance by the council members during the March 2 meeting. At that meeting, Mayor David Poucher, who supported keeping the police dog, had asked the council for several months to secure private funding for the police dog.
When that effort was rebuffed by the council, Poucher decided to end the police dog program.
In the March 16 meeting, Poucher requested that the council "let us go ahead and find a home for him."
Poucher said a member of the family that had originally donated the German shepherd to the Police Department had called him and requested that the dog go to Ben Harvey, the officer with the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department who has served as the handler for Justice.
"We'll take that under very serious advisement," Poucher said. "We'll try to find somebody to take the dog. If not, we'll let it go to Ben."
White Salmon City Administrator Pat Munyan said the city would first try to place the dog with a law enforcement agency. But he pointed out that by the time a new agency gets through the necessary several months of training with a new handler, the dog would have only about two years of service life remaining.
"If we could not place the dog, the handler (Harvey) would be interested," Munyan explained. "He would keep the dog, and obviously sign a release stating the dog is not with the city."
The controversy generated by the decision to remove the dog from serving in the Police Department continued even following the vote to surplus the dog.
After the council acted, White Salmon resident Neil Byrne blasted the council for killing the dog program.
"This is penny-wise and pound foolish," Byrne said. "You displayed arrogance in what you said in the last council meeting -- that by offering private funds to keep this valuable asset, citizens were `thwarting the will of the council.' You are here to do the will of the citizens, not the other way around. The citizens wanted to keep the dog. This is a loss to the community."
Council member Adrian Bradford responded that a solid majority of the City Council had agreed to remove the dog program.
"Four council members voted it out of the budget," Bradford said. "We heard from many citizens who agreed with us."