Dalena Norton was walking her dog, Wiley, a Corgie mix, in John Day when a pit bull that was loose jumped out from behind a hedge and attacked the small dog.
Her friend Cindy Bolman, Dayville, quickly jumped in and pulled the pit bull’s jaws apart, saving Wiley, but the attack sent her to the hospital with a cut requiring four stitches.
Bolman said she is afraid to walk the little dog after the incident and that it could have been much worse.
“If it’s already attacked other animals and already attacked me, who knows what it would do to a kid,” she said.
Bolman and Norton aren’t alone.
John Day City Manager Nick Green said he began looking into problems with dogs after what appeared to be a high rate of incidents since he started in the position this summer.
“There seems to be a lot of incidents related to animals on the loose,” he said. “Sometimes that’s pet owners who just allow their dogs to run free. Sometimes it’s strays. But it makes it challenging for people who are out walking their dogs on a leash when a loose dog comes up.”
Green plans to discuss the problem with the John Day City Council at the Sept. 13 meeting to try to come up with a creative solution to solve the problem.
In John Day and Prairie City, which are served by John Day Police Department, 58 dog complaints were reported between Jan. 1 and Aug. 8 this year, an average of about eight per month. Of those, 16 were for attacking an animal or a person, and eight citations were issued.
In 2015, there were a total of 102 complaints for an average of 8.5 per month in John Day and Prairie City, Green said, with 185 in Grant County.
Although the rate this year appears similar to 2015, Justice of the Peace Kathy Stinnett said she is seeing more than twice as many dog cases this year than usual — 12 in the first six months, compared to an average of six per year.
“Dog owners and victims all seem to be very uninformed about what’s involved in dog laws,” she said. “Anybody who owns a dog needs to be aware of what the law says.”
Stinnett said a dog’s keeper — not necessarily the owner — can violate the Oregon dog as a public nuisance law if the dog is off of a leash on any property except the keeper’s, whether or not the dog displays aggression. Chasing people or vehicles, damaging property, spreading garbage, trespassing and barking can also be cited. The court can also order a dangerous dog to be euthanized, she said.
For the first offense, Stinnett said she often offers a diversion program that waives the fine if no other offenses are reported in six months. Maintaining a dog as a public nuisance is a class B violation, she said, with a maximum fine of $1,000 — not including restitution to victims.
Stinnett said the offenses also cost the county resources in court time and providing assistance to victims.
John Day Police Chief Richard Gray said animal complaints are also taxing on police resources. He said a single incident may take more than an hour of an officer’s time that could be used for crime prevention.
“We’ve had kids get bit. We’ve had cats get killed. We’ve had dogs bite other dogs,” he said. “It ultimately goes back to the owner. The owner needs to have control of their animal.”
John Day City Council will try to find a solution to problems with dogs as a public nuisance at the next meeting at 7 p.m. Sept. 13 at the John Day Fire Hall.