March 3, 2009 in City

Update to dog law unleashes outcry

Richard Roesler Staff writer
 

OLYMPIA – No, lawmakers aren’t declaring open season on Fido.

On Monday, Washington’s state Senate approved one of the most misunderstood bills of the year: Senate Bill 5200.

The bill, titled “Concerning marauding dogs,” repeals two sections of law written in 1929.

One decrees that if a dog attacks livestock, the dog’s owner has 48 hours to kill his pet. The other section says that from August to March, it is the duty of every sheriff to shoot any wandering, unlicensed dog.

The law “is very outdated,” said Sen. Dale Brandland, R-Bellingham. “We have ample laws on the books. This one needs to go.”

When first told about the sheriff  law, Brandland – a former sheriff – thought it was a joke.

But what would normally be a bit of legislative tidying-up morphed into something much more menacing on the Internet, particularly after a Senate bill summary wrongly suggested that lawmakers were advocating shooting dogs. This was quickly picked up by pet blogs across the country.

“What if his collar comes off? Law enforcement will now be able to use him for target practice. It’s sick!” one angry pet owner wrote on a Seattle-based blog.

“Every time I think this country is moving ahead on animal rights, they take a giant step backward,” bemoaned another.

“Why did I get microchips if they are just going to shoot the dog without tags?” complained another.

And then the phones started ringing.

“My poor intern got thousands of calls on this,” said Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam. “They thought I was advocating shooting everybody’s dog.”

Sen. Pam Roach, D-Auburn, joined the unanimous Senate vote to repeal the old law. But she had a cautionary tale for other lawmakers.

“Maybe we have a missed opportunity here,” she said.

One recent weekend, she said, a neighbor called early in the morning to tell her a dog was raiding her chicken coop.

“So, I grabbed my gun,” she said. In her pajamas, she raced outside and sped to the scene.

“I’m not happy that some dog is down there ripping-snorting through my chicken coop,” she told lawmakers. The bill should have been amended to require dog owners to compensate for livestock damage, she said.

She confronted the animal inside the coop. Every chicken was dead. “Legs and heads all thrown all over,” Roach said. “It wasn’t just to eat, it was to maim and kill and hurt.”

The dog had also attacked her goats. “I would have been in my right to shoot the thing,” Roach said. “But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it.”

The dog fled. Climbing into her truck, Roach pursued it across a field. There, she confronted the owner, who was fishing in a river next to Roach’s field.

Roach said all her chickens were dead. So were two ducks. And she spent $200 for a vet to fix up the injured $35 goat. “I paid the vet and I buried the chickens,” she said.

Hargrove said that Roach could have filed a claim in court against the dog’s owner.

“Frankly, I would have gone out – I would have gotten dressed before I went out – but I probably would have shot the neighbor’s dog,” he said.

Richard Roesler can be reached at (360) 664-2598 or by e-mail at richr@spokesman.com.

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