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Going to the Wrong Kind of Dogs
June 17, 2001 - Spokesman Review Street Level column:
North Idaho is Going to the Wrong Kind of Dogs
About a year ago, someone said something provocative to me about growth of North Idaho. "Dealing with dogs will be the biggest problem," he said. I thought it was an overstatement, given all the other population growth issues that garner attention around here.
Now I'm not so sure. The whole McGuckin situation in Bonner County brought to light the difficulties that arise when people just ignore "dog problems."
The Bonner County animal control ordinances, although vague and obviously ineffectual, do state that animals should not become nuisances. Given the statements made by the McGuckin neighbors, I think that 27 roaming dogs counts as a nuisance.
I love dogs. Four of them are sleeping around my desk as I write this. However, I'm not thinking about the McGuckin dogs right now. At this point, they are being well tended by the great folks at Kootenai Humane Society.
No, right now, I'm thinking about the neighbors who have been afraid to walk down their own road for the last five years because of the dogs. That's unfair.
It's equally unfair that one of my neighbors doesn't like walking to our house when certain dogs are out. She's not afraid of my dogs, which are always safely kenneled. She's worried that other dogs along the road are going to be out and jump all over her.
I'm afraid of a different local dog. I can't walk with a leashed dog on the road to the mailbox anymore because I worry that a Rottweiler mix is going to eat my dog.
Frankly, people who let their "farm dogs" roam really infuriate me. I should have the right to walk to my mailbox without worrying about some growling dog trying to take a bite out of me.
Having discussed this type of thing with other neighbors, I'm reluctant to bring it up. Dog confinement is an unpopular subject and is often bad for neighbor relations. So it's easy for me to understand why the McGuckin neighbors just let things slide for so long without reporting the situation.
However, people here don't seem to realize that if they have a dog problem, they need to call the sheriff. The animal shelter can't do anything. Technically, it's a law enforcement issue.
Here in Bonner County, a dog can become a nuisance "due to odor, noise, or collection of fecal matter." It's also against the law not to vaccinate your dog against rabies. Given the McGuckins' reported financial situation and the fact that they apparently didn't go to town very often, I'm guessing that those dogs hadn't been vaccinated.
Now you're talking about a public health issue. The dog or dogs that reportedly bit people have to be quarantined. Or the people who were bitten have to get rabies shots.
Given the number of McGuckin dogs and the fact that so many were pregnant, some if not all were not spayed or neutered.
Here in Bonner County, dogs also are not to be "at large," which means, among other things, "unrestrained by a leash on either public property or private property other than the property of the owner or without permission of the property owner."
The bottom line is that Bonner County has a leash law. It comes down to this: You keep your dog off my property and I'll keep mine off yours. A whole lot of grief would be avoided if people would just buy -- and use -- a $2 leash.
The animal control ordinance also says that if you have more than six dogs you are supposed to meet certain housing and care standards.
Given comments made by folks who visited the McGuckin property, I doubt they met the criteria. Anyway, you'd think a lot of this stuff in the ordinances would just be common courtesy.
The reality of life in an increasingly crowded rural area is that people always assume that dog problems are caused by someone else's dogs. Everyone says his or her dog "never leaves the yard." Except that when you are at work all day, do you really have any clue what your dog is doing?
Unless your dog is in a kennel or otherwise confined, your neighbors may be afraid to walk by your house because they don't want to encounter Cujo's snarling face on their daily constitutional.
As a community, we have deal with these animal control issues. They aren't going away. And when officers are out endlessly dealing with irresponsible dog owners, they aren't doing other things we might prefer that they'd be doing -- like hunting down dangerous criminals.
Local nonprofit shelter boards experience turnover and change their policies. Maybe we should have a municipal facility for impound that isn't subject to these changes. In some communities, dogs deemed dangerous because they have bitten someone must be confined and permanently identified with a microchip.
Bonner County could even make a little extra cash if if it were to actually have owners license their dogs as the cities of Sandpoint and Ponderay do. And the county should charge extra for animals that aren't spayed or neutered. Requiring a kennel license for those with multiple animals would also help officials keep track of those collecting numerous critters out on their property.
Whether we like it or not, the area is growing. I suspect that the folks of Garfield Bay would like to be able to walk around their own neighborhood in peace.
I know I would like to be able to walk in peace around mine.
Susan Daffron, Sandpoint, editor of Computor Companion Magazine, is a member of The Spokesman-Review's Board of Contributors.
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