Off-leash dog attacks upsetting Mukilteo residents
Last updated 7/11/2018 at Noon
Off-leash dogs have created what many people feel to be an unsafe environment inside Mukilteo’s parks.
Last month, as Mukilteo resident Alyssa Wooldridge and her chocolate labrador retriever, Bear, were making their regular hike through Japanese Gulch, they encountered an off-leash dog.
Despite the dog owner’s assurance that their dog was friendly, Bear was attacked.
The incident inside the Gulch left Bear with a bleeding neck, resulting in a trip to the emergency veterinarian for sutures and stitches.
Local municipal codes require that all local parks and trail systems, apart from the “Tails and Trails Dog Park” off 5th Street, are supposed to be on-leash areas for dogs, yet for many Mukilteans, Wooldridge’s story is a common one.
Renee Ripley, a fourth-generation resident of Mukilteo, has experienced three separate dog attacks, all within the last five years, at Mukilteo parks.
“We don’t even go in the Gulch anymore,” Ripley said. “We don’t feel like we can go there safely.”
Mukilteo parks are monitored regularly by Community Service Officers (CSO), Rangers and patrolling police officers.
However, CSO’s and Rangers are limited to offering education and voluntary compliance, for enforcement of off-leash dog laws.
Officers can impose civil infractions that start with a $50 fine and subsequently increase upon further incidents, but even those are discretionary, and officers can instead provide warnings or guidance as opposed to punishment.
“We don’t have a strict enforcement policy or a zero-tolerance policy, necessarily,” Mukilteo’s Assistant Police Chief Glen Koen said.
The owner of the dog that attacked Woolridge and Bear was not cited for having his dog off leash.
Incidents inside Japanese Gulch are particularly challenging for the Mukilteo Police Department, because despite the Gulch being owned by Mukilteo, the land lies within the jurisdiction of the city of Everett.
“That creates a few constraints with regards to how officers can enforce or deter activity that occurs in Japanese Gulch,” said Peg Bohan, a Community Service Officer and Ranger with the Mukilteo Police Department. “In regard to enforcing Mukilteo city codes, we can’t do that because it is Everett’s jurisdiction.”
For many people, this has made Japanese Gulch seem like the Wild West, as off-leash dogs have spread out beyond the friendly confines of the Tails and Trails Dog Park.
“This is a problem that has been falling on deaf ears for a long time based on the feedback I’ve heard from tons of people in the community,” Wooldridge said.
She hopes for increased signage regarding Gulch rules and regulations, as well as education of what is expected of park-goers.
Koen says that MPD has increased their presence at the dog park for community engagement and education purposes, but the signage increase is made more difficult with the land being in the city of Everett’s jurisdiction.
“We can’t necessarily sign for the city of Everett, that is for them to do,” Bohan said.
According to Koen and Bohan, the Mukilteo City Council is considering designating segments of Japanese Gulch as off-leash areas. Additionally, there is work being done to increase the authority of CSOs and Rangers inside the Gulch.
Both items are pending and could be addressed at a City Council meeting within the coming months.
For now, the law remains the same, and Koen recommends compliance with the law, to limit as many issues as possible.
“If you don’t follow the law and something does happen, then take responsibility and handle the situation appropriately.”
Koen encourages cooperation from all involved parties and that the police are contacted to ensure that the incident is reported and documented.
“We all want to enjoy Japanese Gulch for what it has to offer. It really is an incredible place to recreate, and to preserve that, it is better to have dogs on leash,” Bohan said.
As a veteran ranger, Bohan uses a three-pronged method for others to understand the safety importance of leashing your dog: safety of people, safety of the dog, and wildlife concerns.
“Having a dog on leash makes sure you know where your dog is at all times,” Bohan said. “There’s a lot of different things that can be for the betterment of everybody if dogs are kept on-leash.”
While Mukilteo municipal code remains the same, Snohomish County does offer numerous off-leash dog areas across the region.
“If the fenced confines of the Tails and Trails dog park doesn’t do it for them, then unfortunately I would have to recommend they find a different destination,” Koen said.
More information on local off-leash dog parks can be found online at: https://snohomishcountywa.gov/1117/Dog-Parks.