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County looks to put teeth into animal code

YAKIMA - Yakima County hopes to take a bite out of animal code violations with an updated ordinance.

The proposal was presented by Animal Control Officer Tom Morris to County Commissioners on Tuesday morning.

"The idea is to focus on dog behavior, not dog breeds," Morris said in reference to the city of Yakima's struggle with a ban on pit bulls.

The problem, he continued, is with animal owners who repeatedly violate the county ordinance. "There was no progression in the penalty for repeat offenders," Morris said of animal control ordinances as they read now. "There are people who just tear up their citations and throw them away," he added.

Under the proposed changes, such an action could lead to issuing a warrant issued against the person.

The revisions are intended to put teeth into enforcing the law by stepping up penalties against re-offenders to include up to $1,000 in fines or a year in prison for a misdemeanor, or up to $5,000 and/or up to a year in prison for a gross misdemeanor.

Not only does the new ordinance impact animal owners, but the pets themselves.

Infractions of the proposed ordinance, such as a pet running loose or causing a nuisance, could result in ramped up levels of animal security ranging from requiring a fenced yard, to tying the animal up and even a secured kennel.

The ordinance is still in the draft stage and Morse said he hopes to have a finished document for commissioner review by the end of the year.

Between now and then, however, the proposal will be presented to Upper Valley cities Yakima, Union Gap, Moxee and Naches which contract with the county for animal control services.

If approved, the new ordinance will apply to those cities and all rural areas of Yakima County which are unincorporated. That includes Lower Valley residents not living in town.

Morse said he would eventually like to see Sunnyside and Grandview, neither of which contracts with the county, to at least consider the proposal.

Sunnyside contracts with the Humane Society and Grandview operates an independent animal control operation.

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