No King County resident should be afraid to go for a walk, or let their children play outside, for fear of vicious free-roaming dogs. Tragedies like the elderly woman in SeaTac who was mauled by loose dogs in September are preventable, and should never happen. The knee-jerk reaction to this frightening and dreadful incident, and others like it, has prompted law makers to act out of fear and consider enacting new legislation aimed at dangerous dogs, or even at specific breeds of dogs. This is nonsensical. These legislators fail to take into consideration the fact the state of Washington, and King County specifically, have many laws that would prevent these sorts of tragedies if they were adequately enforced.
Passing new laws is easy. It gives legislators a sense of accomplishment, and something that they can brag about in a press release. It is much more difficult to follow through and demand that the laws that exist are adequately and fairly enforced. I am finding it more and more absurd as local governments try to pass new legislation to make citizens feel safer, rather than insisting that laws that are already on the books get enforced, to make citizen safety a reality. New laws, stiffer penalties, bans on specific breeds of dogs, and sky rocketing licensing fees are not going to make citizens safer – there is no reason to believe that they will be enforced any better than existing law.
It is high time we demand that King County Animal Control (KCAC) enforce the dog confinement laws and the dangerous dog law that is already in effect. It is high time that we demand that King County take humane care of the animals in its public shelters and use qualified law enforcement officers to enforce laws against animal cruelty and neglect. It is high time that we demand that King County’s public shelters follow the mandate set forth two years ago by the King County Council, to expand their public outreach, increase their adoptions and achieve the target mandated by the King County Council of saving at least 85 percent of their animals. But instead, these Council mandates have been largely ignored, as KCAC shelter conditions remain deplorable, bureaucrats seem interested only in creating the appearance of progress and the animal control services provided to the community continue to decline, as more and more resources are redirected toward enforcing punitive legislation. In the face of these travesties, how can any town expect that any new legislation they pass will be enforced?
Looking back at the SeaTac tragedy several months ago, when an elderly woman was mauled by loose dogs, it is sadly ironic that there had been at least three calls reporting that these dangerous dogs were running loose and KCAC had not gone to investigate the reports or pick up the dogs. A report of a free-roaming, possibly dangerous dog should be a first priority for any responsible animal control agency so these sorts of tragedies can be prevented. It is why the enforcement of existing leash and confinement laws is so important to keeping our community safe. But instead, King County Animal Control openly proclaims that it will not respond to such reports as a priority until after somebody has already been bitten. This is intolerable.
Before Covington considers any additional laws that will have an impact on good dogs and responsible owners, it should lay the blame where it belongs, and demand that current laws be enforced to keep its citizens safe. Or, they can follow the example of the city of Renton, which hired its own animal control officers in order to provide adequate services to its citizens.
Passing new legislation or adding stiffer penalties to existing laws will only penalize responsible owners who choose to adhere to those laws. In the absence of any enforcement, it will have no impact upon the small percentage of the population that already chooses to flaunt those laws, and thus put their neighbors in danger.
CEO of The Seattle Humane Society