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Federal Way: When dogs attack, law targets owners

Federal Way passed a dangerous dogs ordinance in 2006 — and has faced questions and concerns over it ever since.

Whether specific breeds of dogs should be deemed dangerous is a topic that has surfaced and died several times in past years. Though city spokeswoman Linda Farmer said the city has no plans to discuss its current dog ordinance, 2008 has brought a handful of dog attack reports.

On June 30, a dog escaped from a home on Southwest 316th Place and attacked another dog that was being walked by its owner, according to a police report. The dog suffered life-threatening injuries; two witnesses who tried to help it were bitten by the escaped animal. Animal control took custody of the violent canine.

On June 28, police responded to a report of a dog bite on South 273rd Street. They contacted the owner of the dog and the case was forwarded to animal control, according to another police report.

On May 21, police responded to a report of a possibly aggressive dog on Southwest 328th Court. Police located and shot the dog, killing it, after the animal aggressively lunged at an officer, according to a police report.

Early this year, John Wilde of Federal Way appeared before city council members several times to complain of a dog his neighbor was caring for. The animal escaped and bit another dog, almost killing it, he said.

The bitten canine survived with the help of medical attention, and charges against the woman were not filed because it was a one-time incident, the owner of the injured dog said.

Federal Way most recently broached the subject when city officials met with the Auburn City Council informally this past spring. Auburn adopted a code in 2004 and amended it in 2006 after three attacks by what are commonly known as pit bulls, Auburn City Council member Gene Cerino said.

“We don’t have an ordinance about the dog itself; it is aimed purely at the owner,” Cerino said.

Auburn’s code requires dogs labeled potentially dangerous by the American Kennel Club to be registered with the city. These breeds include Akita, Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Terrier, Bull Terrier, Cane Corso, Dogo Argentino, Dogue de Bordeaux, Kuvasz, Presa Canario and Tosa Inu.

“You can own any one of these dogs,” Cerino said. “We are not saying you can’t have it. We are saying if you own it, you must register it.”

By registering the dog, its owner acknowledges the animal could potentially be dangerous, and he or she agrees to take responsibility for the dog’s actions, Cerino said.

“We wanted to tell our citizens that there are certain breeds of dogs we are going to declare potentially dangerous,” Cerino said. “It’s not the amount of bites, it’s the degree of bite.”

The potentially dangerous label does not apply only to the above listed breeds. Any dog that causes harm to another animal or person, chases people/objects in a menacing fashion or has a tendency to attack unprovoked is considered potentially dangerous, according to Auburn code.

Contract for services:

Though Auburn contracts with King County Animal Care and Control, the city found response times to calls of dangerous dogs were not always timely, Cerino said. In addition to strengthening the code, the city hired an animal control officer nearly one year ago to respond to Auburn calls only. The position costs Auburn approximately $38,000 per year, Cerino said.

“We decided to go even further and enhance our reaction time,” he said.

Federal Way also contracts with the King County agency. Animal control responds to calls of vicious animal complaints, animal bites, injured animal rescues, police department calls for assistance and leash law violations, among other things. Similar complaints about animal control’s response times were made by Wilde when he commented to the Federal Way City Council about his neighbor’s dog.

Animal control procedure:

Complaints of vicious dogs are investigated by a field sergeant, said Nancy McKenney, King County Animal Care and Control communications specialist. Generally, a warning is issued to the animal’s owner, she said.

In severe cases, civil or criminal action can be taken by the county against the owner, or the animal could be ordered to be removed from King County, she said. Response times to complaints vary depending on staffing levels and the number of priority calls received, McKenney said.

In Auburn, dog owners can be fined or charged with a misdemeanor for failing to register their potentially dangerous dog, Cerino said. If Federal Way were to ever consider rewriting its dog ordinance, Auburn would be willing to provide tips, Cerino said. The process is one that would undoubtedly prompt public response, especially if Federal Way adopted an ordinance that listed breeds as potentially harmful, he said.

“Any time you talk about being breed specific, you are going to get an uprising from people that own these specific animals,” Cerino said. “We had 200 people at our council meeting.”

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com

Check it out:

Residents with an animal complaint are advised to call King County Animal Care and Control at (206) 296-7387. In 2007, the agency received approximately 1,200 complaints about barking dogs, leash law violations, loose animals and other animal-related questions or needs from Federal Way residents, said Nancy McKenney, King County Animal Care and Control communications specialist.

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