Editorial: Better language means better Crook County dog law

Late last month a young Bend girl was bitten by a dog while at Ochoco Reservoir in Crook County. The bite wasn’t dangerously severe, and sheriff’s deputies did not have the authority to seize the dog and hold its owner accountable.

That will change before the end of the year. Jeff Wilson, Crook County counsel, has reworked the county’s dog control ordinance, and once it’s adopted by the county court — equivalent to the Deschutes County Commission — it will become law, probably in December.

The new ordinance makes the county a dog control district, with the sheriff’s office having the power to do such things as impound animals and issue tickets. The circuit court, meanwhile, will have the power to enforce the ordinance and the county counsel’s office will appear in court on behalf of the county.

While all that sounds mechanical, some changes are more direct.

The new ordinance spells out specifically what constitutes a potentially dangerous dog, for one thing, so that a dog that bites but does not inflict a serious injury may be seized. Had that definition been in place in July, sheriff’s deputies might have seized the dog involved in the biting incident.

Too, the new ordinance makes it more likely the county will win if it takes a dog owner to court over an animal’s actions, says Eric Blaine, assistant county legal counsel. It also sets out specific fines for violations, something the old ordinance did not include.

Better law won’t eliminate dog bites, unfortunately — that’s a matter of personal responsibility and education — but it will make it far more likely that the owner of a problem animal will be held accountable for the animal’s actions. Knowing you can be fined as much as $500 if your dog nips the neighbor child should be enough to persuade many owners to keep their animals properly under control.

The county court held a first reading of the new, improved dog ordinance earlier this month. It’s expected to hold a second and final hearing Sept. 3, and 90 days later it will become law.