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Animals In Print
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From Animals in Print 15 November 2000 Special Edition:


Three Rottweilers ordered to be euthanized for being a menace have been whisked into hiding

Saturday, October 28, 2000
by Matt Sabo, Correspondent, The Oregonian

NEWPORT -- "Dog at large" has taken on a new meaning in Lincoln County, where three Rottweilers sentenced to doggy death row this year have been given a new leash on life.

Their owners have sent the dogs underground, whisking them out of the county before authorities could collar the family pets to carry out death sentences. The dogs' whereabouts remain unknown.

"They're fugitive dogs," said Rob Bovett, assistant Lincoln County legal counsel who adjudicates cases involving impounded dogs.

Some residents think that Lincoln County Circuit Judge Thomas Branford, who wrote the state's dog-bite law in 1999, sends far too many mutts to doggy death row, so they've resorted to a canine underground railroad. Waldport attorney Scott Beckstead said owners are compelled to hide their dogs because the state law subjects any dog that bites or menaces a person to "humane killing."

"My big objection is that dogs are being killed as a means of punishing people," Beckstead said. "And that's wrong."

Application of the law varies throughout the state. Multnomah County, for example, has eight kennels to hold dogs involved in biting or menacing cases until owners build a secure enclosure or kennel to restrain the dogs from another attack, said Steve Raimo, deputy director of the county's Animal Control Division.

In the past four years, he said, he couldn't recall a judge or hearings officer ordering a dog euthanized.

Beckstead, who specializes in animal law, said this year he has "represented" 11 Lincoln County dogs accused of biting someone or another animal. Of those 11 dogs, four have been ordered by Branford to be euthanized.

Only one was euthanized; the three others were placed in hiding. Two more were voluntarily euthanized by their owners and the rest were placed on five years' probation, which Beckstead pointed out is 35 dog years.

"Thirty-five years of probation," Beckstead said. "That's unconstitutional."

A victim in one of the Lincoln County cases, though, said dogs should be subject to harsh measures when they act menacingly. Portland resident Bill Wiederhold was walking his miniature Dachshund last December near his Lincoln City condominium when two Rottweilers charged them from behind. The Rottweilers grabbed the smaller dog and knocked Wiederhold down three times when he tried to fend them off.

"If you're laying on the ground looking into the mouth of a Rottweiler, it's not too pleasant," he said.

Wiederhold suffered scrapes and a sore shoulder, and his Dachshund survived. Although the dogs didn't bite Wiederhold, Branford sentenced them to death May 25. Before the sentence could be carried out, owner Lola McCollum sent them away, Beckstead said. McCollum declined to comment.

The law is "pretty drastic," Wiederhold said. "But sometimes drastic things have to be done for people to realize what problems (dogs) are."

Branford, who owns four dogs, warned that dog owners who hide their pets could be cited for contempt of court or obstructing governmental administration. He said he had written a change in the canine laws out of frustration, partly because the fines were too small for dogs who bit people.

"It was 10 years of seeing bad results in bite cases," he said.

In a July 19 letter to Beckstead, Branford wrote that the intent of the law is "that a court be able to destroy a dog which has menaced or chased a person, regardless of whether a bite occurs. The rationale is that if, through some fortuity or clever or defensive action on the part of a person, the person avoids getting bitten, the actions of the dog are no less dangerous to the health and safety of the community."

Sandy Peoples was at work when her two Rottweilers were mistakenly let outside by a friend of her teen-age daughter. The dogs chased a woman jogger and nipped her on the leg before she jumped into the van of a passerby.

Branford ordered both dogs euthanized, but only one was killed. The other was ferreted out of the county, Peoples said.

"The whole thing was horrible," Peoples said. "I just don't think you should (kill) an animal . . . because a judge is trying to punish the owner. I don't think that's right."

Bovett said he is a fair arbiter in dog cases. He visits dogs in the pound, takes into account witness testimony and factors in any previous problems with the dogs.

But Beckstead said the law needs tinkering. He wants to ensure that judges follow nine criteria listed in the Oregon Revised Statutes in adjudicating biting dog cases. The criteria range from the circumstances and severity of the bite, to whether the owner has a history of maintaining a dog that's a public nuisance, to whether the dog can be relocated to a secure facility.

Beckstead wants judges to issue written findings before ordering a dog to be killed and create a five-day waiting or appeal period before the euthanization is carried out. He also wants dogs to be given special consideration due to their value as protectors and companions.

"I think it's too easy for a court, or county, or governing body to adopt this cavalier 'hanging judge' attitude when my experience has been that people consider dogs as part of their family," Beckstead said.

Info. from: Matt Sabo, Correspondent, The Oregonian

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