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Canine appeal dominates commissioner’s first meeting

Thu., Jan. 6, 2011

New Spokane County Commissioner Al French was tested in doggy court Tuesday during his debut meeting.

He cut to the chase in an appeal on behalf of Chaos and Henry, a pair of mastiff-St. Bernard mutts accused of mauling a moose.

How were the dogs to recognize the property line they weren’t supposed to cross while chasing off the yearling moose, French asked.

As happens with some regularity, commissioners awkwardly did their best to apply human-style jurisprudence to canine culprits.

When dogs are declared dangerous or potentially dangerous by the Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service, their owners may appeal to Hearing Examiner Michael Dempsey and then to county commissioners.

In some cases, such as that of Chaos and Henry, dogs get more due process than a convenience-store bandit. Their case went to Superior Court and the Washington Court of Appeals, where it was remanded to Dempsey on technicalities.

Dempsey forgot to swear in the witnesses during his first hearing, and the Superior Court didn’t forward all its records.

In the second go-round, Dempsey received new evidence and reduced his verdict from dangerous to potentially dangerous.

On Tuesday, commissioners were asked to exonerate the defendants entirely.

Commissioners struggled with a provision of the county dangerous-dog ordinance that makes allowances for dogs who are provoked. They agreed with Dempsey that the moose provoked Chaos and Henry when it, however innocently, wound up in close proximity to a girl under the dogs’ protection.

But, Commissioner Todd Mielke mused, did the provocation end when the moose left the family’s property with Chaos and Henry in hot pursuit?

Ultimately, the commissioners agreed unanimously that the dogs are potentially dangerous.

The commissioners went a step further than Dempsey and ruled that Chaos and Henry must be confined by a solid barrier, not an invisible electronic fence.

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