Perusing the weekly dispatch logs from the Sheriff’s Office, one will find almost daily reports of loose dogs, dogs attacking other dogs, dogs killing chickens and more.  

In January, the Sheriff’s Office dispatched 42 calls related to animal control issues. Most were roaming or loose dogs and a few were reported to have been aggressive. One particular call regarding a dog killing chickens was reported to have been a recurring issue. A couple others involved reports of loud roosters.

On Jan. 28, a resident reported that a pitbull terrier jumped his fence and attacked his dog, literally biting off its leg. The caller sustained bites to his own hands and face during the attack.

The pitbull was scheduled to be euthanized at the request of its owner, according to the Trinity County Sheriff’s log. Names and addresses are redacted from the dispatch log and requests for more information were not returned as of press time.

On Jan. 25, the shelter was full of animals, mostly dogs, leaving it no way to take in a dog that was found running loose in the area of Weaver Creek in Weaverville.

When it comes to dogs, deputies and Animal Control cannot simply catch and impound the dogs because the shelter is currently full.

Christina Merritt is the county’s sole Animal Control officer and works out of the Weaverville Animal Shelter with a small, part-time staff and the help of dedicated volunteers.  

The laws

Merritt says the county is in the process of updating its maps of leash areas within the county, but noted that no matter where a person lives, it is illegal for a dog to attack a person or animal.

County Code 6.04.050 of County Animal Regulations says “It is unlawful for the owner or possessor of any animal to allow it to trespass on public or private property so as to damage or destroy any property or thing of value. This subsection extends to trespass on the open range if the public health or welfare is endangered. It is unlawful for the owner or possessor of any animal to allow it to attack or injure any person or animal.”

Asked about where leash laws apply in the county, Merritt said it depends where you live.

“In Weaverville, Hayfork, parts of Lewiston, and parts of Douglas City, there’s a leash law, which means dogs can’t be off of their own property, unless under the control of their person or someone who has been designated as their person,” she said. “Even in areas where there is no leash law, and dogs are allowed to be off of their property, they can’t be causing problems, harassing pedestrians or vehicles, going after livestock.”

She added that even in areas with no leash law, a dog cannot be on the highway.

“We run into this a lot in Junction City,” she said. “There’s no leash law in Junction City but if your dog’s playing on the highway, it’s going to get picked up. It’s not safe for them, it’s not safe for the traffic, really, it’s not safe for anything.”

Merritt added that the Trinity Pines subdivision also has a leash law, but it’s difficult to enforce there because of the forested areas.

“Dogs can’t be chasing or harassing livestock or deer,” she said. “There are different consequences for all of these things. Dogs have to be licensed in Trinity County. If a dog comes here that’s not licensed, the person needs to come pick up their dog, pay the fees and they will be leaving with a ticket. Your dog has to be current on rabies [shots] and it has to be licensed and licensing is how we track the currency of the rabies [vaccination] and also how we reunite pets and owners.” She said if a dog is found with a license tag, the Sheriff’s dispatch has record of the dog and its records. Sometimes the tag can be used to reconnect a wandering dog with its owner before it has to be taken to the shelter.

She said it’s very helpful if people keep their dogs contained, especially if they are known to fight with other dogs.

Quarantine

Should a dog escape and bite another dog or person, quarantine laws kick in. The dog must then be quarantined to the premises or the owner must surrender it to the animal control officer. Merritt said the first is preferred, because the dog must be monitored for signs and symptoms of rabies.

“Most quarantines are done in-home,” she said, “because the things we are looking for as signs of illness are going to be difficult to monitor here, because you are taking them out of the environment where they are comfortable. Changes in appetite and behavior are going to come along with that change and those are the things we need to watch for.”

She said the procedure is similar for dog fights and will apply to all involved animals.

What to do

Merritt said any dog bites or attacks should be reported to the Sheriff’s Office immediately, since the shelter cannot take such reports.

“Our primary concerns with a dog bite are infection, tetanus and rabies,” she said, noting that bite victims should check with their doctor to make sure their TDAP (tetanus, diptheria and pertussis vaccine) is up to date and take a look at the bite area.

“We then follow up with rabies status,” she said, “so I will try to contact the owner of the dog and find out the rabies status and quarantine the dog.”

Cause no harm

While some areas of the county do not have leash laws, dogs must still be prevented from causing harm.

“It is unlawful for any person or owner in possession thereof to permit any dog to be at large which attacks or worries pedestrians, vehicles, bicycles, or other users of the public areas, roads, streets or highways,” subsection O states.

It is also illegal to neglect an animal or fail to treat its illness or injuries.

“It is unlawful for any person to possess any animal that is seriously injured or afflicted with mange, ringworm, distemper or any other disease without providing adequate treatment for such condition,” according to code 6.04.050 section I. “For the purposes of this subsection, adequate treatment shall mean such treatment that in the opinion of a veterinarian is appropriate given the injury or condition of the animal.”

According to Section 53074 of the Government Code, any animal may be seized and impounded by an animal regulation officer for any such offenses.

Merritt called it frustrating that a sort of double standard is often perceived, wherein owners of friendly, well-behaved dogs feel leash laws don’t apply to them.

“Just because the dog is super-friendly and just hangs out and no one has ever had a problem with it, it still can’t be [loose], she said. “You’re still going to get a ticket.”

If found

“One of the things we’ve been struggling with is getting the word out about found dogs,” she said, noting that people passing through will pick up dogs in areas they describe as “the middle of nowhere.”

“When in fact, it’s not the middle of nowhere, it’s right on the outskirts of a populated area. The prime example would be Highway 3, near the Pines. It looks like the middle of nowhere because you can’t see any of the Pines, but just over the ridge is a community of over 3,000 people.”

Merritt said someone who picks up an animal is required by state law to notify animal control and keep the animal for 30 days while trying to locate the owner. In Trinity County, the person is also required to post a photo and description of the dog as close as possible to where the dog was found, as well as the nearest post office or general store.

“There are a lot of people who don’t use social media or have access to the internet,” she said, noting that the dog also needs to be checked for a tracking chip.

Asked where dogs impounded come from, Merritt said most are found wandering county roads and either brought in by a citizen or captured by her.

“As far as the geographical location within the county, the two biggest are Weaverville and Hayfork,” she said. “Hayfork has done a really good job. There’s a spay and neuter program there now … in conjunction with Trinity Pet Rescue, so what they are able to do is if someone has a litter of puppies, they’re usually able to place them, and also get the mom spayed.” Merritt said the program has helped to reduce the volume of sheltered dogs that used to come from the Hayfork area.

The shelter

Three part-time staff members and “a bevy of volunteers,” run, clean and answer phones at the shelter, along with caring for the animals.

“We do licensing, we check up on rabies shots, follow up on adopters, and do the adoptions,” Merritt said.

A post on the shelter’s Facebook page noted that the shelter is over capacity and that most kennels have multiple dogs inside.

“We cannot keep receiving stray dogs and also house all those already here. We are a no-kill shelter at the request of the public and we would like to stay that way,” it states. “You can help by telling loose dogs to go home or using social media to advertise their location. If you pick up a stray you should be prepared to care for it and advertise finding it both with social media and physical posters at the location you found it and the closest store or post office.”

“We are very, very fortunate that Trinity County has a large network of animal lovers who are helpful,” Merritt said, noting that some residents in south Trinity have been using social media and other resources in an attempt to locate a pet’s owner. “They weren’t actually able to find anything so one of them actually brought it all the way here to the shelter.”

Asked about the shelter’s capacity, Merritt said it depends on how creative staff can be when it comes to using space and determining which animals can be cohoused.

“We have 17 dog kennels,” she said. “Currently, we have 23 dogs, so we had to shuffle. We were full when we started this morning. One dog went home and another dog came in and took that kennel.”  She said dogs who don’t fight over food were placed together in one kennel to make space.

TASA, the shelter’s auxiliary, provides some funding for alterations, and local veterinarians have been supportive when needed, she said.

“I’d like the community to know we are here as a tool for dogs to be reunited with their people,” she said. “We’re doing our best to make that happen and facilitate adoptions for the ones we aren’t able to find homes for.” She said the shelter’s Facebook page features photos of all found animals and those available for adoption.

She said the shelter also has opportunities for fostering animals that are pregnant or need work to integrate into new homes. The shelter is open to allowing people to care for and exercise dogs, but care is taken not to pair someone with a dog too large or energetic for them to handle.

“Even if you just want to come down and pet cats,” she laughed. “We love that, just give us a call.”

The Trinity County Animal Shelter is located at 563 Mountain View St. in Weaverville and due to the COVID pandemic, it’s best to call ahead for appointments or to volunteer. Call 623-1370 and choose “speak to shelter staff” from the options.

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