Weeks after the city of Napa launched a crackdown on off-leash dogs, the Napa County Sheriff’s Office is entering a month of zero tolerance when it comes to stray and unlicensed pooches.
The sheriff’s Animal Services Division, which handles animal control duties for Napa County and the cities of American Canyon, Napa and Yountville, has been bringing in a higher-than-usual number of stray dogs and will spend March trying to combat the problem.
“We’re impounding between 50 and 60 strays each month,” said Sgt. Oscar Ortiz, who heads up the Animal Services Division. “That’s an unusually high number and each (stray) carries with it traffic hazards and the potential for disease. Each stray is a bad idea.”
Officers with Animal Services investigate between five and 10 bite reports each month, many related to stray or unrestrained dogs, according to the division.
According to the sheriff’s office, officers try to reunite strays that have identification tags with their owners to avoid taking them to the shelter, but most strays don’t have licenses or tags, or are not wearing identification when they are on the run.
In addition to requiring that all dogs be licensed, a local ordinance also requires they wear their license tag, the sheriff’s office said.
To date, officers have used discretion when ticketing owners of stray dogs, Ortiz said.
“Traditionally, we don’t issue citations on a dog that gets loose for the first time,” Ortiz said. “We save that for repeat offenders. We’re very tolerant because if people think they might get a ticket, they might not come get their dogs.”
Perhaps officers have been too lenient, Ortiz said, because the shelter is seeing more and more repeat offenders. In the month of March, officers will cite the owners of stray dogs. The sergeant said the amount of the ticket is determined by the court.
“We’re just trying to raise awareness,” Ortiz said. “We want people to check their gates and try to take more responsibility of their pets.”
Ortiz said small dogs are good at digging, while athletic breeds can be good climbers. He encouraged dog owners to check their properties and look for signs that their dogs might be planning an escape, possibly motivated by boredom.
When a stray dog is taken to the shelter, either by a resident or one of five Animal Services officers, it is held there for a minimum of 10 business days while the shelter tries to contact the owners, either through information contained in a microchip or on an identification or license tag, said shelter manager Kristen Loomer. The shelter calls owners if a number is available and sends bilingual letters to any address associated with the microchip or tags.
If a dog is not picked up by its owner within that time frame, it becomes property of the shelter and is given temperament and health evaluations, Loomer said. Pooches that pass the tests are moved to the adoption section of the shelter, which is currently home to 37 dogs. Like the number of strays, that number is high. Of those, 32 came in as strays.
“We usually see a decrease (in population) around the holidays,” Loomer said. “We haven’t seen a decrease in our dog population in the last eight months. ... I think it’s probably economically driven.”
The shelter normally has about 20 dogs up for adoption, one for each adoption kennel located there. Now, there are multiple animals per kennel, Loomer said. The “resident” that has been at the no-kill shelter the longest is a pit bull-boxer mix named Barney who arrived in July as a puppy.
On top of those waiting to be adopted, the shelter averages between 20 and 25 strays waiting for their owners to retrieve them.
“There are some days here where I’ve seen eight stray dogs come in,” Loomer said. “We have to be prepared to receive that number on any given day.”
Ortiz said the number of stray dogs picks up when the weather is nice, possibly because more dog owners leave their pets outside during the day. Even so, the 50 to 60 strays Napa County is seeing each month is too many for a jurisdiction of its size, he said.
As part of the enforcement, the sheriff’s office is also encouraging owners to get their dogs vaccinated, licensed, and spayed or neutered if they aren’t already.
“A license is a dog’s ticket home,” Loomer said, explaining that residents who come across a stray dog can reunite it with its owner if the dog has a tag. “I can’t tell you how many dogs have been re-homed because of that license and a good Samaritan.”
Of the 32 stray dogs now up for adoption, the shelter had to spay or neuter all but one, Loomer said.
“The importance is truly in reducing pet overpopulation, which will reduce the number of animals in the shelter,” she said. “We urge the residents of Napa County to take advantage of the significant resources available at Napa Humane with low-cost spay/neuter and vaccination/microchip services.”