Animals have, if you’ll pardon the expression, dogged me throughout my career. I have written in the past about rats fighting their way through the sewers and into people’s toilets, only to become the responsibility of the city manager. I have been called on a number of occasions to deal with deer, both dead and alive.
The most tragic event was the murder of a good-sized buck in La Grande by a citizen armed with an air rifle. I wasn’t present when one of our officers responded to a call about angry neighbors confronting a horrified resident who had just killed a deer that had been grazing in his garden. The Department of Fish and Wildlife had loaned the aggrieved gardener an air rifle and told him to shoot the deer in the butt if the animal continued to trespass. Unfortunately for the deer, the resident was not a great shot; and he hit the poor animal in the eye. The wounded deer had just enough strength to run out of the garden and into the street before dying. Our police officer was eventually forced to protect the truly repentant killer from the wrath of his neighbors.
Deer are notorious garden grazers, and one day I received an angry call from a lady threatening to sue the city if we didn’t do something to stop a persistent animal from ruining her vegetables. I explained that deer are wards of the state and that city people are not allowed to harm them. I suggested she call the Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) for assistance. A few hours later an ODFW employee called to tell me that he had responded to the complaint by going to the residence. He was forced to leave in a hurry after the complainant became angry with him for “hurting the deer.”
Wild animal problems are relatively simple in comparison to the problems we have with each other’s pets. Gardeners seem to be particularly testy about animals, and none more so than the brown-thumbed citizen who has just uncovered a cat dropping with his or her bare hand. These incidents inevitably lead to a call to the city manager and a demand for cat regulation. They also make a compelling case for the use of gloves when gardening.
I think dogs, however, are the champion complaint generators of the animal kingdom. Everyone knows dogs bark, poop, bite, fight, and consort in overly familiar ways with other dogs. These activities, while possibly endearing to the dog’s owners, are usually received with less enthusiasm by neighbors. Dog confrontations have been known to lead to violence between neighbors, retaliatory vandalism, and the occasional lawsuit.
All of this leads the City of Albany to the uncomfortable question of how many dogs should be permitted in each household. Albany’s two-dog limit, enacted more than 25 years ago, is now under fire. The newspaper editor believes there should be no limit, arguing that the City should issue citations based on proscribed actions rather than simple numbers. This argument makes good sense in theory, and some communities have adopted this approach. The attraction of a limit is that it is much easier to prove someone has violated it than it is to prove dog misbehavior. As someone who has listened to more than 20 years of dog disputes, I know that people seldom agree on what constitutes canine mischief. These disagreements must then be resolved in municipal court at the cost of considerable time, money, and neighborhood harmony.
I do not have an opinion about what the right number of dogs should be for Albany. A quick survey of colleagues around the state seems to show that most cities allow more than two, but less than five. Bend has no limit and claims to have the highest per capita dog population in the state. The Council will be wrestling with the issue at their next meeting, and I encourage all interested parties to share their opinion. Dog regulations should be based on community values and attitudes. There is a funny side (in my opinion) to many animal issues, but I fully understand that regulating pets is serious business.