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At Large: Are loose dogs a problem in Teton County?

Idaho Falls

DRIGGS — Of all the professions qualified to know something about an area’s dogs, one is the U.S. Postal Service.

In Teton County, Idaho, carrying the mail can be a perilous occupation.

“Postal workers have to be careful,” said Christy Coy, who works in the Driggs office. “A lot of people get angry at carriers because they’re not delivering the packages, but if they get bit, it’s their fault. They could get fired if they get bit.”

“There have been mailboxes where we didn’t deliver because the dogs would stand right under the mailbox and when you stuck your arm out, it would jump,” said Mark Niederer, a mail carrier out of the Driggs office.

Just one of the county’s routes includes ten addresses with a ‘beware of dog’ warning sticker attached for the person carrying the mail there.

To avoid injury to themselves or the dogs, postal workers now use a GPS scanner that warns if a dog is at large in a certain area.

“You can tell if someone’s home or not by how aggressive the dogs are. They are more aggressive when nobody’s there,” Niederer said. “I think it’s partly the mentality that comes from us going and leaving every day, they think it’s their job to make us leave…”

Cyclists have also reported bad encounters with dogs in the valley.

“It’s reaching epidemic proportions on the roads,” said Gary Chrisman who works at Fitzgerald’s Bicycles in Victor. “It’s tough watching my wife and kids get scared by it [and] my 67 year old mother limits where she rides because of dogs.”

Troy Olson, who works at Habitat High Altitude Provisions in Driggs, says he has been bitten multiple times.

“I got bit at Targhee, on the trails where dogs aren’t supposed to be,” Olson said. “I can handle it, but after a couple times it’s like –we’re done now. And if my daughter is out biking around in her neighborhood, it’s a whole other problem… I don’t want to be like that, but boy howdy—I will.”

Some valley residents have taken defensive measures. Last week a Victor resident reported on Facebook that her dog was bear sprayed by a jogger after it accidentally got out of her house in the Willow Creek development.

That resident was not necessarily outside of his rights, says Teton County Sheriff Tony Liford.

“If the dog is at large and being aggressive … use as much force as is required to prevent the dog from injuring you,” he said.

In Teton County, which does not currently have an animal control officer, responding to incidences involving dogs has fallen to the Sheriff’s department.

“We have animal control—it’s us,” said Liford. “If somebody calls us, we go…Whether we can solve dog issues, we don’t know, but we will never leave an aggressive dog without finding out who the owner is. Last year a deputy and I spent three hours with an aggressive dog, until we got someone over that could handle it.”

Since 2010 the Sheriff’s department has received 2,691 dog-related calls. According to the Sheriff’s office, both vicious dog and dog-at-large calls are on the rise. Last week, deputy Andrew Foster was bit serving a notice.

Dogs that bite someone and do not have an up to date record of their rabies vaccination are required to spend a minimum of 10 days at the Teton Valley Animal Shelter.

Four such dogs had to stay at the shelter in the last two months, according to the shelter’s operations manager, Joshua Franco

“Usually it’s not a bad dog, it was put in a bad situation,” he said. “It’s not always vicious dogs that bite people.”

The shelter tries to help dogs before they can get into trouble by giving them a safe place to be.

“A big part of what we do is housing strays before getting returned to owner. If we weren’t there, the animal would not have a place or food for the night… It’s a labor of love here.”

Every year, Franco said more than 500 animals go through the shelter.

He added that he would prefer to see the valley get an animal control officer.

“I think the sheriff’s deputies should be doing other things,” he said. “I would prefer them pulling over drunk drivers rather than picking up stray animals. I think their time could be better served as well.”

Animal control is not a new subject for the Board of County Commissioners, who over the years have considered various ways of dealing with it in the valley.

Since 2014, the county has been collecting revenues from dog licenses. Residents can get a license from multiple places, including from their veterinarian.

The original proposal to the commissioners hoped the sale of licenses would raise about $5,000.

The results have fallen far short of that. In 2014, $555 was raised. In 2015, $1600 was raised. At $7.50 per license, that means roughly 213 dogs were licensed in 2015.

“Licensing is not a money maker,” said Sheriff Liford. “The point for me is to reunite the dog with their owners.”

Licensing will also allow the city and county to fine residents for not following dog ordinances.

“The idea was to get some teeth into the ordinance,” said Molly Absolon, a Victor city council member who was part of the countywide dog ordinance committee that looked at updating dog regulations. “We don’t have anyone dedicated to enforcing these ordinances yet, but hopefully that will happen next.”

Driggs City Mayor Hyrum Johnson agreed that it would take some time for the ordinances to have a significant impact.

“We only recently passed this,” he said. “Once all of us are on the same page, then the information and enforcement can begin in earnest… this will primarily be complaint driven. It is only if problems arise that enforcement will step in.”

The Driggs city ordinance requires dogs to be on a leash within the city limits. It also limits residents to two dogs per household. The Victor ordinance limits households to three dogs and forbids dogs from being in the Main Street City Park without a special resolution of the City Council.

An updated county ordinance has yet to pass. The current ordinance was last amended in 2010.

This article was originally published in the Teton Valley News. It is used here with permission.

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