Friday, February 11, 2011

City of Ellensburg criticized for euthanizing dog

A West Side dog rescue group has criticized the city of Ellensburg for euthanizing a dog the group was willing to take despite the animal’s Jan. 20 unprovoked attack on a city animal shelter volunteer.

The Forks-based rescue group in a news release said it specializes in the lifelong care of dogs that bite and rehabilitates dogs with more severe behaviors than the one recently euthanized.

The Ellensburg Police Department, which oversees the city’s animal control and shelter services, however, says the German shepherd mix was declared a “potentially dangerous dog,” in accordance with state law, after it bit the volunteer on the face, inflicting an injury requiring 20 stitches.

EPD officials said once declared a dangerous dog there is a legal obligation to protect the public and anyone who will come into contact with the dog in the future. The rescue group stating it would assume all liability for the dog doesn’t legally absolve the city from its responsibility to protect the public once the dog is declared a “potentially dangerous dog,” EPD said.

The dog had been released into the care of the city’s animal shelter by its owner, and the volunteer was taking the dog on an outing when the attack occurred.


City Attorney Jim Pidduck said some of the rescue group’s news release information is not accurate. He said he does not direct or supervise the city animal shelter and has no part in making decisions on whether or not to euthanize animals.

Those decisions are made by the professional and dedicated animal shelter staff that works under the Ellensburg Police Department, Pidduck said. “Yet, I would say, given all the circumstances, that the decision to euthanize the dog was an appropriate one,” Pidduck said. He said he reviewed a proposed agreement between the group and the city transferring the dog to the group.

Pidduck said the agreement, as written, did not transfer full ownership or liability of the dog to the rescue group, but left the city with a level of future responsibility toward the animal.


Olympic Animal Shelter Director Steve Markwell of Forks said in a press release the nonprofit group “is shocked and saddened by the city of Ellensburg’s decision to kill” the dog.

The Forks shelter, which takes in dogs that are not adoptable and rehabilitates problem dogs for adoption, indicated it had received requests from the public by phone and e-mail to intervene on the dog’s behalf after the attack.

Markwell said the sanctuary was in contact with city animal shelter personnel who indicated the offer would be brought to the attention of city officials. Markwell said those officials didn’t respond to the sanctuary’s dog transfer request but chose “to kill the dog in secret.”

No easy decision: The city decided it was not in the best interest of public safety to adopt out Kaiser, a German shepherd-Akita mix.

According to an EPD news release, the decision to put the dog down did not come easily and was made after much review and consultations with animal shelter staff and legal counsel. “Our priority is the responsibility we have to the public and to any individual the dog may have come in contact with in the future,” said EPD Chief Dale Miller in the release.

“We owe it to them to not put them in danger by exposing them to a dog that has been declared potentially dangerous under Washington state law.”The Ellensburg animal shelter makes every effort to adopt out the 800 animals taken in each year, according to the EPD news release, adding that only on rare occasions are dogs in the custody of the city shelter determined to be potentially dangerous dogs by state law. During the last few years the city shelter has been able to lower its euthanasia rate to about 3 percent, EPD said.


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