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Monday, November 11, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Crime/Public Safety

Spokane police change dispatch policy for dangerous animals after dog attack

Dialing 911 should have been the right call, Bonnie Rae said, when she reported that her small dog Downey had just been killed by a loose pit bull in north Spokane in September.

“I saw it out of the corner of my eye. It was running full bore, grabbed my dog and broke the leash,” Rae said. “Within seconds, Downey wasn’t all in one piece.”

Rae said she ran about 70 feet to back to her house to call 911 and alert the police to the violent dog.

Instead, she said she was referred to the Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service, or SCRAPS, and got a lecture about dispatch policy for animals.

The on-call SCRAPS officer arrived from Spokane Valley about 30 minutes later, but then the same aggressive dog charged at her family and bit her daughter on the arm.

“He jumped up on her, grabbed her wrist, bit her and ran off,” Rae said. “The animal control officer is shouting, ‘Call 911, call 911!’ ” as he corralled the dog with a baton.

Rae said they were the lucky the dog only attacked one person and that her daughter’s wound did not need immediate medical attention.

Although Rae knows a police response would not have saved her dog, she said an armed officer may have prevented her daughter’s injury.

So she reached out to her City Council members, Mike Fagan and Kate Burke, to see what changes could be made. She also contacted Spokane Police Department Ombudsman Bart Logue.

“It’s a real unfortunate incident,” Fagan said. “I was really kinda shocked to hear that as the mauling was occurring on the young lady’s arm that people were on the line with 911.”

Knowing a citizen’s police advisory committee meeting was coming up, Fagan invited Rae to speak during the open forum. Police Chief Craig Meidl explained the department’s current policy, and then police administrators discussed how they might change their response, Fagan said.

“This is how government is supposed to work,” Fagan said, with “citizens bringing their issues to the appropriate people.”

In the past, officers were not required to respond, but now any dangerous animal called in to 911 will be categorized at the same level as an assault in progress when information is relayed to police dispatch, said Sgt. Terry Preuninger, a police spokesman.

In Rae’s case, her daughter’s injury came into dispatch as a medical response after the dangerous animal call, Preuninger said. Rae said her daughter declined to have an ambulance sent.

“We’re going to err on the side of caution, and we’re going to go any time they say ‘dangerous animal,’ ” Preuninger said.

The change will help support SCRAPS during urgent situations and enhance public safety, said Ashley Proszek, SCRAPS field operations manager.

“We have limited resources as far as when we’re trying to catch a dog or handle situations that could be a safety concern for the public,” Proszek said.

SCRAPS gets calls for aggressive loose animals at least once a week, Proszek said.

SCRAPS officers are available only in an on-call status after business hours, don’t have sirens on their vehicles to cut through traffic and are not allowed to exceed the speed limit. To catch aggressive animals, the officers carry a baton, pepper spray and snare pole.

“We’re appreciative to have some backup,” Proszek said. “Sometimes it’s helpful if we could have law enforcement there.”

The aggressive dog, which had to be quarantined for 10 days after the attack, is still in SCRAPS custody, Proszek said. The owners were served with dangerous dog paperwork Sept. 18 and were given 15 days to relocate the dog, register it as a dangerous dog or have it euthanized.

Proszek said there is no record the owners have initiated the registration process, which involves buying a SCRAPS-approved enclosure, leash and muzzle, as well as spaying or neutering the animal and implanting it with a microchip. The owners also have to get liability insurance.

The SCRAPS officer who responded to the attack is reviewing the case for potential criminal charges against the owners, Proszek said.

Rae said she is taking the owners of the dog, who live across the street from her, to small claims court in December. She has a new dog named Molly, but she is still scared to walk it.

“It’s been very comforting to know that the next old lady that calls when this happens, at least the call will be treated like any other 911 call,” Rae said.

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