Defending Pocatello Animal Control

By Mary Remer

There has been a lot of confusion and misunderstanding lately about what Pocatello’s Municipal Ordinance says concerning vicious dogs.  I’d like to explain the ordinance and procedures our Animal Control officers follow when investigating a call for vicious activity.  By doing so, I think many of our citizens will have a better understanding of how this code can protect both the owner of a dog and the victim.

The ordinance currently in effect is the same ordinance we have been working under since 2001 when the codes were reviewed.  Changes and updates were made at that time to mirror a national standard used by many communities.  The code was again reviewed in 2004 and 2008 by our volunteer citizens’ advisory board and remains very close to the ordinance used by other communities in Idaho.  We feel our code is very fair for all parties involved – the dog, the dog owner, the victims and the taxpayers.  To see a complete copy of our code, please visit the city Web site at www.pocatello.us.

The first misunderstanding is the definition of a vicious dog.  According to Municipal Code 6.04.010 (A), the incident must occur “upon the streets, sidewalks, public grounds or places…or private property not solely owned or possessed by the owner or custodian of the animal.”  Dogs contained on their own property will not be considered as acting in a vicious manner unless there are extenuating circumstances.  The dogs we have problems with are those that are running loose in their neighborhoods and challenging others, both animal and human, for more territory. This is when Animal Control gets called for help.  Please remember, however, if your dog is protective of your yard, you must make it possible for the mail service and meter readers to do their jobs safely and you must protect those who may come to your home not knowing if your dog is aggressive.  Owning an animal is a privilege and it brings a level of responsibility the owner must be willing to accept.

When we get a call for vicious activity, our officers respond, secure the dog and initiate an investigation.  They will visit with the victim, the witnesses and the dog owner.  They will also review the history of this dog and owner.  Their job is to decide if a crime was committed based on the merits of the definition above.  The officer then has options.  They can: 1) allow the victim to sign a citation against the owner; 2) warn the owner of the problem activity and possible consequences if future problems occur; or 3) charge the owner with vicious conduct based on probable cause.

If the owner is cited into court, it will be up to the judge or a jury to decide if the dog is to be deemed as “vicious.”  This is an important point to remember.  The decision is not made by Animal Control or our officers but by the judge or jury after both sides have presented their cases in court.  If the dog is found guilty in court, the owner is required to follow a stricter standard for keeping the dog secure.  They will also be required to microchip the dog for identification and to alter the dog to help modify its behavior.  If they fail to follow these court-ordered rules or the dog is found to be at-large or is involved in another incident, the owner will find themselves in more trouble with the law.  Only then can the dog be seized by Animal Control to be held at the shelter until the new charges are adjudicated.

Another area causing confusion is whether the dog has to inflict injury upon its victim.  Again, Municipal Code 6.04.010 (A) defines a vicious animal as “Any animal which, when unprovoked by teasing, taunting, or a threatening manner by any person, approaches said person in an apparent or perceived attitude of attack…”  Municipal Code 6.04.010 (C) then goes further to state a vicious animal is also “Any animal which bites, inflicts injury, assaults or otherwise attacks a human being or domestic animal or livestock without justifiable provocation.”  This allows victims a way to step forth if they have been threatened.  If they can present the proper evidence that a crime has happened, the victim will be allowed to sign a citation against the dog owner and take their concerns to court.  We don’t feel neighbors should have to live in fear of a dog until it actually hurts someone before something is done.  Vicious conduct is a behavior that will escalate if steps aren’t taken to prevent further activity.

Our Animal Control officers have all attended extensive training to do their jobs and they are all certified with the National Animal Control Association.  They have 41 years of combined experience working in the field of law enforcement and with animals.  We are proud of these officers and the professional manner in which they do their jobs and we are confident they will continue to serve our community well.

Mary Remer is the director of Pocatello Animal Control.