Conflict between dogs and cats is nothing new, but things get complicated sometimes.
Take the case of Louie, a 5-year-old neutered German shepherd-Lab mix who used to live on Long Run Drive with owner Deborah Horner. Accused of killing two neighborhood cats on July 15, Louie was labeled "dangerous," sparking months of debate about animal behavior and due process rights.
The dispute landed in Juneau Assembly chambers for a two-hour appeal hearing Monday. Assembly members sent the case back to the independent Animal Hearing Board for a rehearing, this time with a city attorney present.
As Horner tells it, Louie never had showed signs of aggression against any animals or people before he appeared in her yard with a broken collar, bruises and scratches in July. Animal control officers declared the dog dangerous, which requires confinement, and took it to the Gastineau Humane Society after two dead cats were found nearby. The dog no longer lives in Juneau.
While Louie may have been involved in the incident in some capacity, there's no proof he bit or killed cats, Horner said. Matted grass in her yard and a destroyed dog bed indicated cats or other animals might have provoked Louie, Horner said.
"The events in this case that were witnessed and reliable are very few," she told Assembly members.
But Gaile Haynes, hearing board chairwoman, said there's solid evidence Louie killed the two cats, Baby and Sugar. A 10-pound cat doesn't attack a 40-pound dog, she said.
"You might reasonably say that the mere presence of a cat walking around with an attitude is such provocation that a dog is allowed to kill with impunity. Is that the interpretation of the law we want?" she asked.
The Animal Hearing Board doesn't like declaring dogs dangerous, but Haynes said a dog that kills cats is a threat.
"A cat-killing dog is a community danger for dogs, cats and small children," she said.
Horner disagreed with the board's position and told Assembly members she was denied process rights and a fair hearing. The board's original decision, expected to be finished in 24 hours, was issued a week late as an injured Louie was kept at the animal shelter, she said.
In a 5-3 vote, the Assembly remanded the case to the Animal Hearing Board for a rehearing at the earliest possible date. Mayor Sally Smith supported the motion, saying she didn't believe there was a fair and impartial hearing.
Assembly member Randy Wanamaker disagreed.
"I do believe they were fair. They were troubled by the potential danger to small children by a dog of this type," he said.
Louie's dangerous-dog label will stand for now, said Marc Wheeler, presiding officer for the appeal.
The dog has been staying with a friend in New York since August, Horner said. If Louie were to stay in Juneau, he would need to wear a special collar and tags. Horner would need to post signs identifying Louie as dangerous, provide liability insurance and make sure the dog is confined, under the ruling.
Horner isn't confident she'll get a fair hearing in front of the same board. She wanted the Assembly to reverse the decision because of alleged violations of city, state and federal law or send it directly to Superior Court, she said.
"It's just another delay," she said. "My civil rights are not up for grabs. Period."
Louie is the 13th dog to be labeled dangerous by Juneau's Animal Hearing Board in the past nine years. He is the first dog that got the label after a fight with cats, Haynes said.
"The dangerous dogs we've had were simply bite cases," she said. "If a dog bites a person, there's a witness. If a dog kills a cat, there might not be."
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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