Dog task force addresses problems

Gastineau Humane Society has logged 63 dog bites so far in 2003

Posted: Friday, October 24, 2003

The Gastineau Humane Society had logged 63 dog bites for 2003 as of Wednesday, animal control supervisor Capt. Hoyt Stepp said. That is up from 44 bites in all of 2002.

The Gastineau Humane Society runs an animal shelter and the city's animal control services.

More pit bulls are entering the community. Typically they are owned by residents in their mid-20s who think it's cool to own such a breed, Stepp said. About a dozen dogs are on the "dangerous dog" list, which means they have bitten a person. The list includes one pit bull, one Rottweiler, a black Labrador retriever and an Australian cattle dog.

Late last year, a 160-pound Alaska malamute attacked a cat held by a woman. The dog killed the cat and put 16 puncture wounds in the woman, humane society officials said.

The number of "enforcements" issued also is up, from 367 in all of 2002 to 521 as of Wednesday, Stepp said. Enforcements are verbal and written warnings and citations for animal-related incidents. Calls for general animal-control service have increased from 682 in 2002 to 1,184 through Wednesday.

The movement to address dog-related problems was spurred this past spring when city Parks and Recreation Department Director Kim Kiefer considered closing Rainforest Trail to dogs, she said. The trail is near the end of the North Douglas Highway.

Some residents told the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board in April that they wanted the trail left open to dogs. Kiefer agreed, but said she would create a task force to address dog-related issues.

The task force met for the first time, on Tuesday at the downtown library, and drew about 30 members of the public. Ideas under consideration include having leash-free areas for dogs, a trail not open to dogs, and an area where dogs can be trained for tracking, Kiefer said.

This summer, Anchorage established five off-leash dog areas on a trial basis through September 2004, said DeeAnn Fetko, contract administrator for the city Department of Health and Human Services. The public wanted places where dogs could roam off a leash, she said. Anchorage has not experienced a rise in dog bites.

Juneau's task force will address educating the public about the impact dogs can have on the elderly and children, owners cleaning up after their dogs and keeping dogs from areas used by bear cubs and nesting birds. Kiefer is seeking more volunteers for the task force. The next meeting is at 12:15 p.m. Nov. 10. A location is yet to be determined.

The highest number of dog bites occur on the Brotherhood Bridge Trail, which is near the Mendenhall River, and near the wetlands by the airport, said Gastineau Humane Society Executive Director Chava Lee.

Lee Lawson said he has been intimidated by dogs while walking on the Brotherhood Trail in the last few weeks.

"I believe people have the right to have animals, but I also think people need to be responsible for those animals," Lawson said.

Lawson said one dog showed its teeth and another nipped him on his left leg. Both dogs were not on leashes, in violation of the city leash law. When Lawson complained to the owners, they defended their dogs, he said.

Animal issues, especially those involving dogs and cats, have created tension among residents, Stepp and Lee said.

"Civil issues with animals bring out people's emotions," Lee said.

Some people are afraid to talk to their neighbors about a barking dog or nuisance cat, they said. Stepp said society has changed in Juneau since 1995, when he first worked as an animal control officer. Many people today do not know their neighbors or are afraid of them, he said.

Animal control has issued more than $900 in dog-related tickets to one resident who vows to keep repeating the same offenses and paying the tickets, Stepp said. And some areas of Juneau, such as Fox Farm Trail, think they are exempt from animal control laws, Stepp and Lee said.

A sign posted near Fox Farm Trail, off Fritz Cove Road, tells the dog control officer to stay out.

"That alone is creating a neighborhood problem," Lee said.

Some people who live in that neighborhood are embarrassed by the sign and want dog control to address problems, she said.

Residents can call the Pet Behavior Hotline at 463-4883 to get advice on how to remedy animal behavior issues. Signing a complaint gives Stepp the legal authority to pursue a case.

Residents bothered by nuisance cats can borrow cat traps from the humane society if they give a $50 refundable deposit. One clockmaker borrowed some traps after cats kept coming onto his front porch and urinating on the expensive cedar he uses to make clocks, officials said.

• Tara Sidor can be reached at tara.sidor@juneauempire.com.



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