Attacks draw concernPolice say incidents of vicious animals on the rise
While most animal calls in the city are relatively minor, Washington Police Chief Greg Goodman said that incidents involving a vicious animal — one that attacks a human or another animal — are on the rise.
Goodman said that in the past the city averaged about four calls per year involving animals that were considered to be a danger to the public. The police have responded to two such calls in the last two months. He said that officers are seeing bigger dogs in town and the police are getting many calls of concern about aggressive dogs. He said there were some that could potentially turn into a bad case, but haven’t. He said there had been some incidents with smaller dogs and incidents that aren’t reported.
“I think there are several issues we are dealing with,” he said. “I think we are dealing with people letting their dogs run loose, whether they are vicious or not — they can’t. People can have dogs run loose in their yard and it is best if they have a fence or invisible fence.”
He said there are some dogs that are trained not to leave the yard. The city code refers to dogs “being under control.” Goodman said that when a dog leaves a yard, it is no longer under control. He said that dogs, especially larger dogs, need good training.
The ordinance also covers how long a dog can be chained out. He said that some people leave dogs chained outside all the time, which doesn’t lead to good behavior over time.
The Washington Police Department gets a lot of dog complaints, Goodman said. He said the concerning ones are the vicious dogs, where the animal bites someone or attack another dog.
While the city was developing the ordinances regarding pets in town, he said, there had been discussions of banning pit bulls. “Pit bull” is a generic term used to describe several breeds of dogs including Staffordshire bull terriers, American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terrier or bull terrier. Goodman said that the ordinance doesn’t target specific breeds, but rather vicious animals.
“Any dog can be a vicious animal,” he said.
He said when the police department seizes an animal and requests “humane destruction” of the animal, Goodman said the safety factor of the community is the deciding factor. Goodman said the size of the animal is also taken into account. He said the police department has asked for few dogs to be destroyed.
Goodman said that when a dog is picked up, an evaluation process begins. Jason Whistler, the city’s dogcatcher, is a nationally certified animal control specialist. PAWS and More is also involved when a dog is picked up. In cases when a dog is picked up, is not vicious and not claimed, it is turned over to PAWS and More for adoption.
“We are a dog-friendly city, but we are going to draw a line,” Goodman said. “We are not going to allow dogs to injure people or other animals. The problem is when a dog goes after another animal and the owners try to break it up, the owners can get bit. Then there is a cycle that starts.”
Goodman said that according to the law, dogs must have rabies shots. He also said dog owners are responsible for injury costs associated with their dog attacking. Even if the dog’s shots are current, the dog is still quarantined to check for rabies. If there is no rabies vaccine, the dog can be turned over to the city to be humanely destroyed and tested for rabies or the dog can be quarantined at the owner’s expense.
Rabies tags are also required by law to be attached to a dog’s collar, Goodman said. He said there is a state code which says if a dog in the city doesn’t have a rabies tag, it “shall” be immediately destroyed. He said Washington officers don’t do that.
In the vicious dog law, after being declared a vicious dog, the dog can be humanely destroyed, relocated or confined. Goodman said the city doesn’t like using the relocation option, because this just makes the dog someone else’s problem.
Goodman also said the dog doesn’t have to bite someone to be declared vicious. He said that if the dog comes close and is aggressive, it could still be determined vicious.
He said owners need to pay objective attention about their pet’s behavior. He said that if a certain behaviors start happening, they would probably happen again. He also said people concerned about a neighboring dog to let the police department know.
“Our goal is public safety,” Goodman said. “Period.”