Lewis County selects Dangerous Animal Panel
Lewis County commissioners finalized the newly created Dangerous Animal Designation Board Tuesday, naming five members to sit on the panel that will decide the fate of animals deemed potentially threatening.
“We were very pleased with all the background of all the applicants,” said Danette York, director of Lewis County Public Health and Social Services. “It made it difficult to break it out as to who would make the five.”
Lewis County received nine applications for the board, and hopefuls interviewed with York and her team, who made recommendations to the commission. The five board members will be Elsista Ridings, Craig Burke, Charles Snipes, Kevin Nelson and April Hoyt.
York noted that applicants included trainers, breeders, exotic animal experts and people with law enforcement and legal backgrounds.
The board was created following the controversial saga of Hank/Tank, a dog initially deemed dangerous. After York and other county staff came to believe the animal was harmless, they adopted him out under a different name so he wouldn’t be euthanized, leading to a drawn-out legal battle over the dog’s fate and criminal charges against York and Animal Shelter Manager Amy Hanson.
Since that controversy, the county has contracted with an animal control expert from Thurston County to make dangerous animal designations, at a cost of $250 plus mileage. The new board is designed to be a long-term solution, eliminating the need to pay a third party and removing the burden from York and her staff.
“We’re all pleased that it’s moving forward,” York said. “I feel like it’s going to be a better process, because we have more than one person hearing both sides and making a joint decision, and it has the community input.”
York – or her designee – will still be the tiebreaking vote if the board is deadlocked on a decision, but the county is hopeful that scenario won’t arise.
The five-member panel will need a quorum of three to make decisions, but if four are present, officials may ask if one will be willing to abstain, to avoid the potential for a tie.
“I really don’t want you to be the tiebreaker,” Commissioner Gary Stamper said to York.
York said that’s unlikely to happen, as most decisions are “cut and dry.”
York and deputy prosecuting attorney Eric Eisenberg met with potential panelists to explain the board’s role and the fact that they may have to make painful decisions.
“It is an emotional hearing,” York said. “You have people who are crying and upset and very protective of this animal – ‘It only happened this once.’ You have to be able to remove yourself from the emotion, because it will be emotional.”
All of the applicants said they were still willing to serve.