GREEN RIVER — The proposed changes to Green River’s animal at large ordinance failed on second reading during Tuesday night’s Green River City Council meeting.
Council member Robert Berg was the only vote in favor of the amended ordinance, while Council members Gary Killpack, Ron Williams, Sherry Bushman, and George Jost voted against it. Mayor Pete Rust and Council member Mike Shutran were absent from the meeting.
The ordinance passed the first reading in a 4-3 vote. Now that the ordinance amendments did not pass second reading, the motion failed and it will not appear in front of the Council again. The ordinance will stay as currently written.
Several Council members and residents expressed their opposition to the amended ordinance, stating that it will either not change anything or it will punish good dog owners. Council member Gary Killpack questioned why the amendments were needed as the existing ordinance already states animals must be restrained with a leash and by a competent person.
He said the current ordinance states: “Every animal shall be considered at large when it is physically off the property of the owner and not under the immediate restraint of a competent person.”
The current ordinance also states an animal is under ‘restraint’ only when controlled by a leash and is obedient to a competent person’s command. Killpack said the language already states a that animals are restrained only when controlled by a leash so there is no need to adjust the ordinance.
“So my position is that it’s already in the ordinance, we don’t need to change the ordinance,” Killpack said.
The following are the suggested changes to the ordinance.
Killpack asked whether enforcement by the Green River Police Department (GRPD) would change at all with these amendments, to which Interim Chief of Police Shaun Sturlaugson answered by simply stating, “no.”
“What this new ordinance does is clarify language,” Sturlaugson said. “In terms of enforcement, the leash law is a very reactive thing for us to enforce. There’s very few instances where we’re actually going to interrupt somebody getting bit by a dog, simply because we’re not in that place all the time.”
Council member Ron Williams said this is the reason he voted against the first reading, stating the original ordinance doesn’t really need to be changed. However, the amended ordinance includes language that states an animal is at large that is in a vehicle but stretches outside the car window to attack people passing by. Williams said he is in favor of this portion of the ordinance.
“Even in your vehicle you have to keep your dog from biting people and scaring people,” he said.
Chief Sturlaugson said that enforcement of the ordinance is all about articulation and the current ordinance could be used to ticket someone for having a dog jump out a car window.
“I think it would be easy to articulate that if your dog jumps out a window and bites somebody walking by that they’re not restrained,” he said.
Council member Robert Berg said he was in favor of the ordinance because a lot of people don’t know about the current ordinance, and these changes clarify language and make people aware of the laws.
Punishing Good Dogs and Owners
Martha Holzgrafe, resident and GRPD detective and therapy K9 handler, addressed the Council in opposition to the amendments. She said she was not representing the police department but rather was representing herself as a dog owner. She has both a therapy dog who works eight hours a day, as well as non-working dogs.
Holzgrafe said when she takes her dogs to the Greenbelt, it is their time to be dogs. She worries that these changes to the ordinance will take away her dogs’ freedom to be animals.
“One of the things that I found a little concerning about the adjustment is it’s more along the lines that it appears we’re hurting the animals and taking something away from them and their abilities to be animals,” she said.
She said it is the owner’s responsibility to keep their dogs under control, and that the leash law amendments could end up punishing good dog owners and dogs.
“As we’re walking on the Greenbelt, it is my responsibility as a dog owner to look ahead,” she said.
She also noted that she and other dog owners use electronic collars in place of leashes, which may cause for further issues and confusions with the leash law.
Another resident said her dogs practice bird hunting at the river, and they cannot do this with a leash attached to the dog. She expressed concerns about limiting dogs’ access to the river and the more remote areas of the city.