Dog euthanized; no charges against owner

POULSBO — Criminal charges have not been filed against the owner of two boxers that killed one dog in Poulsbo and attacked another dog and a woman on Bainbridge Island Feb. 15 and 16, respectively. The dogs, however, are no longer in the owner's possession.

Kitsap Humane Society animal control officer Chase Connolly said the owner voluntarily surrendered one of the boxers to KHS after the second attack on Bainbridge Island, but did not immediately give KHS her answer on the second dog. On Tuesday, he said the owner, a 29-year-old Poulsbo woman, returned the dog to the breeder in King County. KHS euthanized the other boxer over the weekend, based on the recommendations of the behavioral team.

The first attack was reported Feb. 15 about 10 p.m. on 15th Loop just off Hostmark Street in Poulsbo. A woman was walking her brother’s dog Ivy, a 9-month-old bichon frise, when two boxers charged at them. The boxers attacked Ivy, according to the Poulsbo Police report and witness statements. Ivy died the next day.

On Feb. 16, the boxers again attacked a dog and its walker, this time at Madison Avenue and Wyatt Way on Bainbridge Island, about 8:45 a.m.

According to the Bainbridge Police report, a woman was walking her elderly friend's small poodle, Buster, on Madison Avenue when two “boxer-type dogs” ran across the street toward her. One of the dogs began biting Buster, and when the woman reached down to get the dog away from the attack, the boxer bit her on the hand. The other boxer bit her on the calf while trying to get at the poodle.

A man came and took the dogs back to his residence on Madison. The man said he was watching the dogs for a friend when the boxers got loose and ran off.

The boxer that was not surrendered was under investigation as a Potentially Dangerous Dog, Connolly said. KHS has forwarded the case to King County Animal Control. This case has highlighted some ambiguity in how animal control enforces the municipal ordinances.

The Poulsbo city code states that a "Dangerous Dog is any dog that … has killed a domestic animal without provocation while off the owner's property …" (Ordinance 2007-46). Dogs may be impounded "When the animal has injured or bitten a person or other animal, and/or where the animal poses a threat to people or other animals…" (PMC 6.06.040). Bainbridge Island has a similar animal control code, structured from the state law (RCW 16.08).

Poulsbo and Bainbridge Island contract with KHS for animal control enforcement.

KHS Interim Director Eric Stevens said the seizure of an animal that has committed a violent offense isn't always black and white. The system in Kitsap County gives a fair amount of rights to the pet owners, he said.

"The law tries to find a balance between protecting public safety, but also there is a lot of emphasis in the law [for] protecting owners," Stevens said. "We find it works better to engage the owner and get their understanding the law, understanding of what the restrictions are, because they're going to have to cooperate…but if we don't have our ducks lined up, the dog's going to go back to the owner."

“The officer may impound the animal," Connolly said, putting emphasis on "may." "In this case we thought the [owner] was going to be taking responsibility … It’s very unfortunate in this circumstance, the person did not abide by animal control’s authority … to keep the animals confined to property.”

After the attack in Poulsbo, the officer was investigating the boxers as Potentially Dangerous Dogs, and told the owner to keep the dogs confined to her property. The case escalated when the boxers attacked another dog, and the bichon frise died from its injuries; KHS changed its declaration to Dangerous Dogs.

"If the dog killed on the spot, no question, we would go by what the ordinance says," and impound the dogs, Stevens said. During the investigation, Stevens said, "All we can do is no. 1 apply that declaration, and no. 2, if the owner appeals we can provide the evidence to corroborate why the animal was declared potentially dangerous or dangerous. They still have the right to keep their animals at home, with the added responsibility to ensure the animal is not jeopardizing public safety."

Stevens and Connolly said there will be an internal review of the case — "not of this officer's handling of [the case], but a … clearer picture with intent of the legislation," Stevens said.

"We want to make sure we have a strong system in place between Kitsap Humane Society, the police [and] the courts, so we can always be doing whats right and protecting public safety."

“We’re reviewing our department, anything we can do to better correct these issues so they won’t arise in the future.” Connolly said. The department will “create a more equal level of judgement [among officers].”

"My heart goes out to the family who lost [the] dog, it's very tragic," Stevens said.

Poulsbo Deputy Chief Bob Wright said he planned to look into KHS animal control procedures, and had already forwarded their report to the prosecutor's office.

"It's certainly something that needs to be addressed, because I'm not sure why the dogs [weren't taken into custody]," Wright said. "Dogs attack and they do that all over the country. There's procedure set in place for quarantining the dogs when [animal control] removes them."

Bainbridge Island Patrol Lt. Chris Jensen said he forwarded a police report to KHS, not the prosecutor's office, because KHS is "the enforcer, the authority of those incidents."

Stevens said KHS would be submitting their case information and evidence to the prosecutor's office in support of the Poulsbo Police report. KHS can issue citations and municipal fines for infractions, but do not have authority over criminal charges, Stevens said.

Debbie Fischer, the woman who was bitten by the boxers on Bainbridge Island, does not think the case was handled well.

"It's amazing how bad animal control [and] the police have handled this," she said.

Fischer said she didn't know of the Poulsbo incident until she read about it in the Herald. She left for a trip the day of her attack, but said she called Bainbridge police while gone to see what was happening with the case. She said she became upset when she was told the animals were not taken right away.

"It was a joke. I kept calling and calling [animal control] … always getting their voicemail," she said. "I could never talk to anyone directly. It was very frustrating."

She said she didn't feel Bainbridge police took her injuries or the attack seriously.

"The more I'm digging into it, the more it stinks, the way it was covered," Fischer said. She has consulted legal advice, but wasn't sure she would file a civil suit. She does feel the county should prosecute the owner of the dogs.

"We put these laws and regulations in [changing the municipal codes] but we don't enforce them," Fischer said. "We let things like this happen. To me, that's very polluted thinking. It’s very troublesome and sad."



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