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The Observer Paper 10/29/14

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By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

"It's not impossible to solve these problems, it just takes longer to do it within the law," Animal Control Officer Becky Maddock said Wednesday afternoon.

Maddock was responding to an unsigned letter that was sent to The Observer this week.

The one-page, typewritten letter was addressed to editor Ted Kramer and claimed responsibility for "eliminating" the two free-roaming dogs that had belonged to Katie Shelley, 11, and Christian Knapp, 8.

The two La Grande children had written a letter to The Observer after the death of their dogs Nov. 26, believed to have been caused by poison.

In their signed letter to the editor, the two children warned dog owners to "watch their dogs very carefully," and ended by calling the person who is believed to have put out poison a "coward" and "a horrible person."

The letter received by The Observer was sent to "notify the community of our intentions," wrote the writer, who claimed to be part of a "loosely organized group of county residents who have lost patience with rude and inconsiderate dog owners."

They wrote that "we want to make clear that we are not enjoying our role as vigilantes," but go on to say that "we will continue to eliminate menacing free roaming dogs and dogs which are allowed by their owners to disrupt the public's peace and quiet with persistent and repeated barking."

Reading the letter Wednesday, La Grande Police Lt. Derick Reddington and animal control officers expressed concerns and said if the letter's claims are proven the writer faces felony criminal charges under Oregon animal abuse statutes that make aggravated animal abuse — maliciously, intentionally or knowingly killing or torturing an animal — a Class C felony.

Regarding the threats in the letter to "continue to eliminate" dogs, Reddington said "that does concern me. The public probably needs to be aware of this."

Maddock and Lani Adams, who serve both La Grande and Union County as animal control officers, find the situation in many ways frustrating, in large part because those with complaints are often calling police or deputies anonymously and unwilling to provide the needed evidence.

State law define dogs as "companion animals" with a somewhat legally protected status.

At the same time, regulations passed in 1994 by the La Grande City Council and slightly earlier by the Union County Board of Commissioners require dog owners to keep their dogs from becoming "nuisances" — dogs that bark excessively or are allowed to roam free off the owner's property.

Dogs found to meet the legally defined "nuisance" level can cause their owners to be cited for violations, which result in tickets of $30 to $150 each time, Maddock said.

If a dog is deemed "aggressive'' legal process becomes rapidly more severe, she said.

But at the nuisance level, law enforcement needs the cooperation of those being annoyed.

"Officers will contact the owners (of barking or roaming dogs) if it's late at night or early in the morning," Reddington said.

If the problem is frequently barking dogs, "people have to be willing to fill out a dog log," Reddington said.

Maddock said that someone who believes a dog or dogs are barking excessively is asked to maintain a written log for two weeks of when the dog barks, and for how long.

Excessive, or nuisance barking, is defined by county and city laws as 15 minutes of continuous barking, or 30 minutes of intermittent barking at a time for seven days out of a 14-day period.

With a completed dog log and someone willing to file a complaint, a citation can be issued.

Adams, who is working with La Grande Police on the case of the Shelley and Knapp dogs, said Wednesday that toxicology results have not yet been received from the laboratory.

However, the two dogs have been the subject of several complaints, and the Shelley family dogs have been the subject of complaints for nearly 14 years, Maddock said,

Citations in recent years regarding their dogs have led to a municipal court order that for a part of a year the family couldn't keep a dog on their property. That court order was lifted several months ago.

For the majority of dog-as-nuisance cases, though, "most people take care of the problems," Maddock said. When citations are issued and there's fines involved, "that makes people take notice."

While officers are concerned about the letter threatening further action against dogs, no one could argue with the letter's closing statement: "If you love your dog, keep it's behavior under control."


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