As more people move onto Camano Island, the dog population also grows. Every week, Camano Island residents call authorities about problems with dogs.
Dogs wander in the streets, bark for hours, go into yards, fight with pets, kill chickens. Complaints are mostly about nuisances.
But sometimes problems with dogs get serious. In late February, the problem became deadly.
Stephanie and Mike Oxborough raise livestock on south Camano Island. They only let the chickens out when someone is home all day, since dogs have killed their chickens. They’ve also built a good fence for the cows. Dogs occasionally come bark at their livestock, then leave.
In late February, Stephanie Oxborough came home midday to find commotion in the cow corral. She sent her daughters into the house, except the little one that stuck with her.
“My 5-year-old witnessed it only because we didn’t know what we were walking into,” Oxborough said.
One glimpse of the muddy, bloody scene, and Oxborough sent her girl to the house.
Two dogs, reportedly pit bulls, were in the cattle pen, barking and chasing seven cows in circles. The cows were bashing into the fence, smashing into the gate and bonking their heads, trying to escape.
They damaged the gate, posts and corral. One dog was locked onto a 1,000-pound cow’s jaw. The cow was running and trying to shake the dog off. Another cow had a welt on its head.
“It was the most horrific thing I’ve ever seen,” Oxborough said. “You hear about cows being attacked by dogs, but these were not biting at tails and nipping at feet — they were trying to take it down.”
Oxborough stayed on the phone with 911 as she watched the gory scene. Eventually, she saw a man come through the woods. His dog ran off.
A woman showed up. Her male dog was locked onto a cow’s jaw. The man and woman tried to call her dog off for about 15 minutes. Just as the sheriff pulled up, the man grabbed the dog and tore it off the cow, Oxborough said.
Two cows were so injured that they had to be put down. One was the 1,000-pound cow and the other was a pet — a twin calf that they bottle fed and named Joey. He would have turned 1-year-old this month.
“We loved that guy; he was pretty close to us,” she said. “You can’t erase it from your mind. Every time I shut my eyes, I see that cow with half of its face ripped off. It was extremely devastating. Yesterday I was driving in the car and just started crying.”
Island County Deputy Lt. Scott Fague said the two dogs had no known prior problems. The woman who owned the intact male dog lived on Pilchuck Drive. The man was visiting and brought the female dog along, which he was pet-sitting while its owner moved to Portland Oregon.
The impounded dogs have been released to their owners. The visiting dog was released Feb. 28 to its owner in Oregon, and the resident dog was released Friday afternoon.
Both owners have met all state requirements, including $250,000 liability insurance policies for each dog. The dogs already had microchips, so their records as dangerous dogs will follow them.
Now considered dangerous dogs, these two canine must be on leash and wear a muzzle anytime they are out of the house or roofed enclosure in the yard. A dangerous dog sign is required to be posted on the premises.
“For public safety we kept them in the pound until those parameters were met,” Price said.
Dog issues common on Camano
Kevin Price, Camano Island’s animal control officer, has responded to several serious dog-related calls in recent years.
In May 2019, two 4-year-old kids were playing in the yard and a wolf hybrid got protective of the resident child and badly mauled the neighbor child.
“He was pretty scarred, but lived. That dog was euthanized,” Price said.
Another time, a woman was walking her dog on a leash in Camaloch. The 2-year-old, 180-pound dog ran toward a man, pulling the woman at the other end of the leash across the street. He broke the leash and bit the man in the forearm.
“You’d be surprised how many incidents there are with bites,” Price said.
Sometimes dogs attack people and pets who are simply walking along the road, he said.
Recently, dog owners voluntarily euthanized their dog after it ran off their property to bite a woman walking down a road on south Camano.
In early 2020, a woman was walking her dog on Sunset Drive. They passed a dog that was tied in a yard. It broke the cable and attacked her dog. Her dog sustained serious injuries that needed intensive veterinary care.
Officials urge pet owners follow the laws
Island County has clear regulations for animals, but many pet owners don’t know about them, officials said.
Regulations are designed so that people can enjoy rural living, go out in the community and roam in the parks without being endangered, harassed or annoyed by people’s dogs, Price said.
“Dog leash laws exist for public safety. Licensing is imperative because it involves a rabies vaccination, to protect the public, he said. “It’s important to have these statutes in place and even more important to have them enforced.”
It’s against county code for people to let their dogs run loose, chase, jump on or snap at people on sidewalks, streets or other public places. Dogs that are off their premises must be on a leash, no longer than 8 feet long.
People taking their dogs to parks must have them on leashes. An exception is that dogs may run off leash at Henry Hollow Dog Park or only on the beach at English Boom County Park. Dogs must be on a leash on the English Boom trails.
Dogs may be seized and held at Camano Animal Shelter Association if an officer or animal control officer finds them off-premises without an identification tag or dog license.
“Some people think, my dog never leaves my yard, we don’t need a license. Every dog in Island County has to have a dog license, every one,” Price said.
Revenue generated by licenses help fund animal control. Licenses are not prorated and expire each year on Dec. 31.
Barking a common complaint
Barking dogs are covered under both the noise disturbance and animal ordinances.
The noise ordinance states: “It is hereby declared to be the policy of the county to minimize the exposure of citizens to the harmful nuisance, physiological, and psychological effects of excessive noise. It is the express intent of the Board of County Commissioners to control the level of noise in a manner which promotes commerce; the use, value, and enjoyment of property; sleep and repose; and the quality of the environment.”
Night time is quiet time, free from most kinds of noise from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.
But anytime day or night, 15-20 minutes of constant barking can be unreasonable. If it's just for a day, maybe there are reasons, Price said. Maybe a neighbor was having landscape work done or a tree taken down, and the dog isn’t used to it. But dogs shouldn’t be constantly barking, especially during night-time hours.
According to code, it’s unlawful for any person having custody or giving shelter or refuge to a dog to allow it to make “frequent or habitual howling, yelping, barking … to annoy or disturb a neighborhood of three or more persons separately domiciled.”
Price puts it simply: three different domiciles have to call in complaints.
Code states that people who let dogs bark can be fined $25 for the first offense, $125 for the second and for the third, it’s $1,000 or 90 days in jail or both.
Price is inclined to start with a warning. He said a lot of people don’t know that their dogs are barking while they’ve gone out.
“I try not to hammer people with infractions. If I educate you on the barking ordinance, explain it, and you show me you don’t care, then I’ll give you an infraction,” he said.
As the weather warms up, more people are outside and dog complaints are already rising. He advises people to be good neighbors and talk to each other; let people know their dogs are barking or getting loose.
“My call volume has exploded in the past week,” Price said.