Richland laws debated after dog killed in fight

By Drew Foster, Herald staff writerJanuary 6, 2010 

RICHLAND — A standing-room-only audience packed Richland City Council chambers Tuesday night to hear five residents speak about breed-specific regulations and leash laws in the wake of a dog-on-dog scrap that left one animal dead Dec. 31.

A mini daschund and at least one other dog described as a boxer-lab mix encountered each other New Year's Eve day in Richland and the ensuing fight led to the mini-daschund's death. Both dog owners were injured as well.

Details of the skirmish differ between owners.

Andrew and Elinor Woehler, owners of the mini-daschund, attended Tuesday's council meeting, along with dozens of other people, some of whom brought their dogs. Andrew Woehler addressed the council and asked the members to consider enacting breed-specific regulations for owners of dog breeds defined as "potentially dangerous."

Breed-specific regulations exist in Pasco and Kennewick, where owners of potentially dangerous breeds, which includes pit bulls, must keep the dog in a six-sided enclosure; keep the animal on a chain leash while outside; keep a muzzle close at all times while outside, post a written and illustrated warning sign; carry a specific type of insurance and have an updated and valid permit for the animal.

The council listened to Woehler and other Tri-City residents who spoke about the issue, but took no action. The council previously mulled breed-specific regulations several years ago, but rejected the idea in December 2006.

Andrew Woehler told the council his wife's version of what happened that morning. He said she was attacked by three dogs, two of which he said were pit bulls, on the greenbelt just north of Aaron Drive. His wife suffered bite wounds to her arm, he said, which had to be treated at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland.

"I now have personal experience as to how dangerous (pit bulls) really are, as does my wife," Andrew Woehler told the council.

The couple left the hearing as soon as Andrew Woehler finished speaking.

"I had to take my wife home," he said after the meeting. Being around large dogs so soon after the incident left her shaken, he said.

Jim House, the other dog owner involved in the New Year's Eve fight, told the Herald that one of his dogs approached Elinor Woehler's two mini-daschunds Dec. 31 in a playful manner. House said one of the mini-daschunds nipped his dog -- which was initially described as a pit bull-mix -- and his dog reacted and engaged the smaller mini-daschund in a fight.

House maintains that one of his dogs, not three, was involved. Two other dogs belonging to House were present during the fight. One was a pit bull and the other was a Labrador. House was cited for violating Richland's leash law, as two of his dogs were not on leashes when the fight broke out. The Woehlers say their dogs were leashed, but House disputes that.

"Her dog was more aggressive to my dog," said House, who has since moved out of the Richland apartment near where the fight occurred. "That's when my (dog) got into defense mode and got into a fight with her daschund."

He added, "It all happened in a matter of minutes."

Angela Zilar, Tri-City Animal Control director, said she's prepared a report regarding the incident and is awaiting recommendation to either deem House's boxer-lab mix "dangerous," or make no designation. Zilar said one of House's dogs has injuries consistent with being in a fight. She said adoption papers and other documents were used to determine that the dog is a boxer-lab mix, not part pit bull.

"We haven't declared him anything," Zilar said, adding that she believes House's boxer-lab mix shows no violent tendencies toward humans.

Of the four other people who addressed the council regarding the dog issue, one favored stiffer leash laws, while three spoke against the creation of breed-specific regulations.

Stacia Gunderson of Kennewick brought a Doberman pinscher, which wore a "therapy pet" vest, to the council meeting. Gunderson, 34, said bad dogs aren't the result of bad breeds, but are instead the result of bad owners.

"It has everything to with the owner and, usually, nothing to do with the dog," she told the council, prompting the audience to applaud.

Courtney Guthrie of rural Benton County attended the meeting with her competition dog, a pit bull.

Jim Collett of Richland said he's been chased by dogs at night and sometimes fears for his safety while walking after dark.

"There are way too many people letting dogs loose at night, and they're going to get fined what, $50?" he asked the council. "That's not enough."

-- Drew Foster: 509-585-7207;

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