Pierce County is poised to make a range of revisions to its animal code, including when a dog can be declared dangerous.
The dangerous-dog chapter has been rewritten to make it more streamlined and consistent with state law, said Brian Boman, the countys Animal Control supervisor.
A County Council committee will review the proposal today.
One proposed change matches state law by requiring attacks to be unprovoked for a dog to be declared dangerous or potentially dangerous. But it would allow one exception: when a dog crosses onto private property and attacks.
In that case, your trespassing dog could be declared dangerous if it injures or kills an animal or person, whether or not it was provoked.
This exception would allow Animal Control to take enforcement action even when nobody is exactly sure how the attack started, said deputy prosecuting attorney Cort OConnor.
Every animal owner is responsible for controlling their own pet, he said.
The county still would have to prove a dog behaved in a manner that falls within the definition of a dangerous dog, which would require a witness, OConnor said.
By trespassing, one dog may have provoked another by entering into its yard because dogs are territorial, Boman said.
The code currently does not address provocation. If the changes are adopted, as a general rule, Pierce County Animal Control will have to prove the incident occurred without provocation, OConnor said.
Making this a requirement will help the county prove its cases when they are appealed, Boman said.
The countys dangerous-dog provisions apply to all animals, but the only animals that have historically been given those designations are dogs. Ten dogs are currently in compliance as potentially dangerous, four as dangerous, Boman said.
Owners are allowed to keep a dog after its declared dangerous, but they must meet stringent requirements, including buying a set amount of liability insurance and paying an annual registration fee. The fee is $500 for a dangerous dog and $250 for a potentially dangerous dog.
Eleven owners are currently appealing dangerous-dog designations to a hearing examiner, Boman said. Another five are appealing potentially dangerous-dog designations.
None of these cases involved provocation, Boman said.
The proposed changes to the dangerous animal code were spurred by a court decision in 2011. A state appeals court declared unconstitutional the countys dangerous-dog appeals fees, ruling the law meant to protect the public from vicious animals violated the due-process rights of their owners.
A panel of the Division II Court of Appeals ruled the fees could deprive people who cant afford to pay them the right to challenge the countys unilateral declaration of their dogs as dangerous. The fees for a potentially dangerous dog were $250 for a date before the hearing examiner and $500 for a dangerous dog.
An owner whose dog had been declared dangerous sued the county over the fees. The county charged the fees to cover its costs, OConnor said.
The proposed revisions to the animal code would officially remove the appeals fees, which havent been collected for more than a year.
Auditor Julie Anderson, whose office oversees the Animal Control department, stopped collecting them once the ruling was handed down in November 2011.
The county filed a petition for review with the Washington State Supreme Court, which denied the request.
In addition, the county made a number of changes throughout the code and rewrote the dangerous-dog section. It added language to the definition of a potentially dangerous animal, making it consistent with state law.
It really cleaned up a lot of the language, Boman said. Its making it easier to read and understand.
Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647
ANIMAL CONTROL CHANGES
Besides addressing whether a dog attack is provoked, other changes proposed for Pierce Countys animal code include:
• Dogs and cats must be licensed at six months of age, instead of eight weeks. Thats more consistent with local cities.
• Every adult dog and cat must wear a collar with a current license tag at all times, not just when off the owners property. This change aims to return lost dogs and cats more quickly to their owners, said Animal Control supervisor Brian Boman.
• There is greater leverage to declare a dog potentially dangerous by adding to that definition any animal with a known propensity, tendency or disposition to attack unprovoked, to cause injury or otherwise to threaten the safety of humans or domestic animals.
• The first violation of operating a pet facility without a license is changed from a misdemeanor to an infraction, providing the operator a chance to comply without being charged with a crime, Boman said.
IF YOU GO
Who: Pierce County Council Public Safety and Human Services Committee.
What: Changes to the animal code regulating dangerous and potentially dangerous dogs.
When: 1:30 p.m. today.
Where: Council Chambers, County-City Building, 930 Tacoma Ave. S., Room 1045, Tacoma.
More information: bit.ly/109EVD8.