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Tighter rules on dangerous dogs takes center stage at Thursday's town council meeting

Just how far they’re willing to go remains to be seen.

But the Friday Harbor Town Council made no bones about its intent to tighten up on town law and to clamp down on dangerous dogs, and on potentially dangerous ones as well.

At the council’s request, town staff is expected to present a set of preliminary regulations for consideration when the council meets this Thursday, Jan. 20.

Councilman Noel Monin said town law should contain “some teeth” and that the town will also need a means by which to enforce whatever rules and regulations the council eventually agrees upon.

“I think what’s called for are clear, well-defined punishments for people who our negligent with their animals,” said Monin, who suggested a committee also be formed to gather public input before the council enacts any new regulations.

The call for tighter rules comes on the heels of several recent dog attacks within the town’s boundaries.

On Dec. 17, a 3-year-old boy was bitten by a pitbull, which reportedly was on a leash at the time, in the parking lot of the library. The dog was later released to its owner following 10 days in quarantine at the animal shelter.

The day before, a different dog, which reportedly has a history of inflicting harm on other animals and intimidating pedestrians, ran into a yard on Maple Street and attacked the dog that lives at the home.

The owner of the dog that was attacked, Virginia Beaudoin, joined a half-dozen islanders in calling on the council to enact stricter rules on dogs capable of unprovoked assaults, and stiffer penalties upon their owners as well.

“I’ve made eight calls minimum to 911 because that dog is in my neighborhood every day,” Beaudoin said. “Every time I was told they couldn’t do anything because it’s in the town of Friday Harbor.”

Unlike the county, the town has no rules regulating dangerous or potentially dangerous dogs, or that set up a process by which a dog is determined be either.

Currently, town ordinance states that any dog “displaying the tendencies and symptoms” of a vicious dog can be considered a public nuisance. It is unlawful to “keep or maintain” a public-nuisance dog within the town limits.

At the council’s Jan. 6 meeting, Undersheriff Jon Zerby said county law contains a process by which a dog can be declared dangerous or potentially dangerous.

He said that although the sheriff has authority to make that determination, that decision can be appealed in district court.

Zerby said the owner of a dangerous or potentially dangerous dog must obey certain standards that apply to their pet, such as making sure it stays in its yard or on a leash, and may face criminal penalties if restrictions are ignored.

In general, Zerby said the type of restrictions depend on the dog, its history, and whether it’s a repeat offender. There are 19 potentially dangerous dogs in the county, he said, and of those, 10 are pitbulls.

Town attorney Adina Cunnigham said the council can adopt stricter standards than those of the county, as well as a lower “threshold” for determining whether a dog is “dangerous”, rather than potentially dangerous.

Councilwoman Maria De Freitas recommended the county's law as a good starting point, but that its “threshold” may be too forgiving.

“We need to sure whatever we’re doing matches the adequate criteria with protecting our citizens,” she said. “This threshold may be too low.”

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