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Spokane County small towns struggle with stray dogs

Some residents of Latah say they’re living in fear after a dog attack this summer injured a City Council member and raised questions about animal control in small towns.

Patricia Neumann was walking the two blocks home from the post office on Aug. 16 when she spotted a loose pit bull accompanied by a woman and a teenage boy. They were walking in front of her in the same direction. She stopped and waited to give them time to get home and lock up the dog, then continued on her way.

She turned the corner toward home only to see the dog was still loose. “He just tore right after me and launched right into me,” she said. The dog’s owner tried calling the dog, but he didn’t obey, Neumann said. “He didn’t even flinch,” she said. “He just kept coming back and biting me.”

When it was over, Neumann had been bitten on the arm, thigh and foot. One neighbor bandaged her bleeding wounds and another drove her to the emergency room. Neumann said the dog ripped open a vein in her arm and she received numerous stitches. “It wasn’t just a little nip,” she said. “It disfigured my arm. I have a dent now in my arm.”

SpokAnimal, which handles animal control for several small towns on a per-call basis, was called but they couldn’t do anything other than write a report, Neumann said. SpokAnimal’s animal control officers are not commissioned law enforcement in Latah. “They don’t have any authority to do anything,” she said. “Nothing’s been done. It’s very frustrating.”

SpokAnimal Executive Director Gail Mackie said her officers are only commissioned inside the city of Spokane, so they have limited authority elsewhere. The per-call contracts also present a problem. “If a private individual calls us from a small town, we do not respond,” she said. “The request must come from City Hall.”

An officer did respond to the reported attack in Latah but the town declined a second visit, she said.

The issue is not isolated to Latah. Other small towns, including Fairfield and Rockford, have struggled with the same issue. Recently, the Fairfield City Council directed the town clerk to get in touch with the other town clerks in southern Spokane County and approach the Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service about getting a new animal control contract.

“SpokAnimal isn’t able to issue citations, which is our main problem,” Fairfield Town Clerk Cheryl Loeffler said. “Nobody’s ordinances are any good because we can’t enforce them.”

SCRAPS Director Nancy Hill said that not only is she open to creating contracts with the small towns, she was about to suggest the same thing. SCRAPS currently serves the cities of Spokane Valley, Millwood, Cheney and Liberty Lake, as well as unincorporated Spokane County. The city of Spokane will join SCRAPS in January.

“One of the goals of the regional program and expanding staff was to truly be available, and that’s to offer the service to all incorporated cities in the Spokane County boundaries,” she said.

Hill said she has been preparing proposed costs for all the towns and presented her plan to the Latah City Council on Tuesday. A small town such as Latah with fewer than 500 residents would pay a minimum of $1,000 annually. Larger towns would pay a higher minimum. If the town accepts, she would ask the council to adopt the county’s animal control codes. “As part of the agreement, they would give us the green light to enforce the laws in their community,” she said.

Residents would also have access to SCRAPS programs and facilities, Hill said, including the new regional shelter and the spay/neuter voucher program. “They wouldn’t have to worry,” she said. “We would be there when they needed us.”

The towns may have no choice but to accept Hill’s offer or go without animal control all together. Mackie said that it still hasn’t been decided if SpokAnimal will continue to offer animal control services after Jan. 1, when it loses its biggest client, the city of Spokane. “That’s one of the programs we’ll be evaluating,” she said.

Violet Stephens said she learned about the August attack after her daughter had already agreed to go over to Neumann’s house to feed chickens Neumann wasn’t able to. “I didn’t want my daughter to go over there by herself,” Stephens said.

Not only did Stephens drive her daughter to Neumann’s home, she brought along a rifle for protection. “I didn’t know what I was getting into,” she said. “(The dog) was acting aggressively, but it was penned up.”

Stephens said her daughter and many others avoid that area because of the dog’s aggressive behavior. She’s heard that other residents also carry weapons to protect themselves, she said. “The dog ripped her arm open,” she said. “I was actually shocked that the dog was still there.”

Neumann, the City Council member, said she has hired an attorney and may sue the dog’s owners. “I can’t even go outside anymore,” she said. “My quality of life has gone way down. I’m kind of a prisoner in my own house. When I do go out, I take a club with me.”