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Dog Fight

Dog owners complain about Boise animal control's aggressive behavior

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Damiana Uberuaga lives across the street from Manitou Park, where she likes to take her pooch to one of Boise's pilot off-leash areas. But based on what she heard from three other dog owners, she's wary of how the city's dog park rules are being enforced.

"My neighbor Shelley--she was telling me to beware of the dog police, they're vicious here. They come around in a white van or on a bicycle and try to fine people," said Uberuaga.

Uberuaga fired off a letter to Mayor Dave Bieter, Boise City Council members Maryanne Jordan and Elaine Clegg, as well as the City Clerk's Office, expressing her concern with the officers' conduct, but a spokesman for the Mayor's Office said the city stands behind the officers' actions.

"Three separate women have been treated poorly by plain-clothes dog officers," Uberuaga told Boise Weekly. "Threatened, berated--it's totally unneeded to treat them like that."

On Dec. 29, 2011, Sherry Gorrell was walking her rottweiler, Gus, through Boise's Memorial Park. It's Gorrell's first pup in 18 years, and like most dogs he had to answer the call of nature while visiting the park.

According to Gorrell, she let go of Gus' leash while he was mid-bowel movement, and hurried to grab another green bag from a nearby dog bag receptacle. Gus finished his business and she turned to leave.

"Just as I was leaving the park ... I hear some really loud voice," said Gorrell. "I turn around and there's this guy behind me and he's walking toward me. Then I hear clear as a bell, 'Don't make me have to chase you.'"

Gorrell said she went into "a fight or flight mode."

"He's walking up and he's in just regular clothes," she said. "And I noticed that he had this ID thing hanging around his neck, like an office worker would wear."

The man, one of two animal control officers who patrol Boise parks, told Gorrell that he would have to cite her for having her dog off-leash. Ultimately, Gorrell was issued two tickets--one for $75 for not having Gus' leash in-hand and a second for $65 for not having a dog license.

Later Gorrell contacted Bieter's office, voicing her concerns about what she called the "aggressive" treatment she had received.

The animal control officers report to Stuart Prince, a supervisor in the City Clerk's Office. Officers submit a monthly brief to Prince detailing the tickets they've issued. Gorrell arranged a meeting with Prince and two animal control officers (one male, one female) about their conduct.

"The woman officer was very receptive," said Gorrell, who said she works as a mediator. "But this guy could not shut up. He always has an excuse, a reason, and his whole behavior is reprimanding and frankly patronizing."

Adam Park, spokesman for the Mayor's Office, has since responded to the complaints of the three women mentioned in Uberuaga's email. But Gorrell told BW that she had yet to be contacted by anyone from the city. Park said that the tickets were issued fairly but also indicated some procedural changes may arise in the wake of the incidents.

"Animal control has adjusted its contact procedures based on input received from one of the complainants so that officers will now immediately identify themselves," wrote Park.

Park also said the officers will wear brighter uniforms starting later this year, again in an effort to better identify themselves.

Gorrell eventually paid the off-leash ticket. By submitting a newly purchased dog license, she avoided any penalty for her pooch being unlicensed.

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