Amendment to code updates city’s policy concerning dogs
Sumner City Council members passed an amendment last week updating the city policy regarding potentially dangerous and dangerous dogs.
Before the amendment passed, Sumner’s code stated action could be taken against a dog and its owner once the dog bit or tried to bite a human twice in a two-year period. The city stated the lack of a specific ordinance regarding dangerous or potentially dangerous dogs limited an animal control officer’s enforcement of regulations about aggressive dogs.
Unlike other dog ordinances across the country, which focused on specific breeds, Sumner’s ordinance is based an an individual dog’s behavior.
The adopted ordinance enables authorities to take swift action based on a dog’s behavior and creates restrictions on the dog and its owner.
According to the ordinance, a dog is declared dangerous or potentially dangerous by the animal control authority if the dog is the subject of a complaint from a citizen who would testify the dog behaved in a specific threatening manner; dog bite reports against an animal are filed with the animal control authority; the dog’s biting is witnessed by an animal control officer or a law enforcement officer. The ordinance also lists “other substantial evidence” as criteria.
Once a dog is declared potentially dangerous or dangerous the declaration must be written and served to the owner through mail or personally. If the owner cannot be contacted either of those two ways, or published in a newspaper in general circulation.
The declaration must state the evidence leading to the dog’s designation, restrictions placed on the dog and penalties for violating the restrictions.
If the dog’s owner objects to the declaration, the owner may request a hearing with the director of the animal control authority within 10 days of receiving the declaration or 10 days from the publication date, if printed in a newspaper.
An owner of a dangerous dog is required to obtain a permit from animal control. In order to receive the permit, the owner must demonstrate they have an adequate enclosure for the dog with “a clearly visible warning sign that there is a dangerous dog on the property.”
The owner must display a sign with a warning symbol alerting children of the dangerous dog and get a surety bond issued worth at least $50,000 dollars.
A policy of liability insurance for at least $50,000 insuring the owner for any personal injuries due to the dangerous dog.
The owner of a dog declared to be dangerous must obtain a permit from animal control an pay an annual renewal fee. The owner must pass a site inspection of the dog’s enclosure with the warning sign and prove the dog either has a microchip placed in it and provide the chip number, or prove the dog has an identification tattoo and provide an image of the tattoo to animal control for matching purposes. The owner is required to provide evidence of other requirements, such as the dog’s current rabies vaccination. The owner must show proof they obtained a liability insurance policy of at least $500,000 insuring the owner for personal injury caused by the dog or prove they have a surety bond worth at least $500,000 and payable to anyone injured by the dog. Other requirements include putting a muzzle on the dog when it’s outside its primary residence.
Owners found to be in violation of the conditions face possible conviction of a gross misdemeanor.
Councilmember Randy Hynek introduced an amendment to the ordinance with the help of City Attorney Brett Vinson and Sumner Police Chief John Galle.
The amendment gives a hearing examiner the flexibility to give the owner and their dog a probationary period of up to one year. If at the end of the period, the dog has not attacked or behaved aggressively to anyone in a way which would be consistent with being potentially dangerous, the dog may no longer be listed as such.
Hynek felt there needed to be some leeway so an animal wouldn’t be permanently listed as potentially dangerous and so the owner wouldn’t need to continuously pay the fee. During the probation, the dog may go through obedience training. It’s a way, he said, of rehabilitating the dog, rather than forever punishing it and its owner.
Discussion of the ordinance almost reached an impasse when councilmember Matt Richardson requested the ordinance be amended to require Sumner residents to disclose whether they have been found to be in possession of a potentially dangerous or dangerous dog before.
“I can’t vote for it in good conscience without it,” Richardson said.
Galle said the problem is some people who violate one aspect of the dog ownership and registration requirements violate others, so it may be difficult to have this requirement be effective because they may register the dog under someone else’s name, therefore skipping over the admission of dangerous dog possession.
The ordinance was almost amended when City Attorney Brett Vinson suggested Richardson’s desired addition could be covered by rewriting a section of the text.
This was met with reservations by Deputy Mayor Leroy Goff and Mayor Dave Enslow, who felt making last-minute changes could lead an oversight in the text.
When the possibility of tabling the issue came Police Chief John Galle urged council to pass the amendment because Puyallup City Council would have a similar ordinance before them at their meeting the following day.
Due to the urgency, the event was not tabled and it passed without the “last minute” addition, with every councilmember but Richardson voting for it.
“I’m not going to vote for this because I can’t have my name on it,” Richardson said.
The council always has the option to amend the ordinance later, which encouraged them to pass it as written.
The ordinance went into effect five days after passing.
Reach Chaz Holmes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-802-8208.