Animal control officer keeps the peace with the community’s critters

Rick Foster talks about leash laws, licenses and overheated dogs

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Camas-Washougal Animal Control Officer Rick Foster and West Columbia Gorge Humane Society volunteer Anne Fromm visit dogs at the WCGHS shelter in Washougal. Foster wants to educate local residents about laws that affect them and their pets.

There are several misconceptions in the community about what animal control officers do, says Rick Foster.

A Camas-Washougal animal control officer for 18 years, Foster said some people think he kills animals.

“That’s a case of them not being educated,” he said.

Another old school thought is that animal control officers are dog catchers.

“A guy asked me, ‘where’s your net?'” Foster said.

He described his job as working to protect animals and the public.

During a recent ride along, he talked about several laws that local residents might not be familiar with.

Dogs must be on leashes no longer than 8 feet in length when they are off of their owner’s property.

That includes the area right outside the gates of the local dog park.

“I love the dog park,” Foster said, as he drove outside the perimeter of the Donald and Angeline Stevenson Off Leash Area, at 32nd and Addy streets, in Washougal.

“Dogs need to run,” he said. “They don’t get that, unless the owner is a good runner.”

If local residents have an animal-related issue to report or express concerns about, Foster recommends they call 911 and say it is a non-emergency, or call the Washougal Police Department to reach one of the two animal control officers.

During the ride along, Foster received a call regarding a possible homeless cat. He advised the caller that animal control officers only pick up dogs, not cats.

The West Columbia Gorge Humane Society has a cat shelter at 2675 S. Index St., and a dog shelter at 2695 S. Index St., in the Port of Camas-Washougal Industrial Park, in Washougal. Space is limited, but the organization has a foster volunteer program.

Leash laws

Foster said leash laws protect pets and the public.

“I don’t like loose dogs getting hit by cars or trains,” he said.

The ride along included a drive by the Washougal Memorial Cemetery, 3329 “Q” St. A city ordinance, as mentioned on signage, states pets are not allowed in the cemetery.

Foster recalled when a woman operated a “puppy mill,” involving Cavalier King Charles spaniels, outside the city limits of Washougal in Clark County.

Twenty-two of the puppies ran across the street to the Washougal Memorial Cemetery, and local officers were able to cite her.

“If your dog causes an accident, you’re responsible for it,” Foster said.

A ticket for having a dog-at-large in Washougal will cost $76. In Camas, it is $87.

The cost for having livestock and fowl-at-large is $250.

“They are a big hazard in the road,” Foster said.

He has answered calls regarding loose peacocks. There are six in the local area.

During a stop at the lower portion of Hathaway Park, Foster advised a woman walking a leashed puppy on the boat ramp that dogs are not allowed in public swimming areas. Foster shows the sign at the top of the ramp, to educate her.

Other public swimming areas include the Sandy Swimming Hole and Capt. William Clark Park.

Dog owners who fail to properly pick up and dispose of their dog’s waste matter will be charged $76 in Camas and Washougal, or $250 if it occurs in a park.

“Kids play in the park,” Foster said.

Dogs are not allowed in Crown Park, at 120 N.E. 17th Ave., in Camas.

“One person can mess it up for 100,” Foster said.

There are also ordinances pertaining to animal noises and smells.

Animal Control officers respond to many situations

Foster handles calls concerning reptiles, birds and goats, as well as roosters.

“Crowing is a noise violation, a public nuisance,” he said, regarding roosters.

Public works employees handle the retrieval of dead animals, such as opossums, raccoons and deer, in streets.

Raccoons and opossums, which could be attracted to food and water that people leave outside for their pets, can bite dogs and spread diseases.

If residents see bears or cougars in the local area, Foster recommends they contact the C-W Animal Control Office, as well as the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife office in Vancouver.

Licensing requirements

Foster, who served in the Marines as a military police officer, believes in enforcement through education.

Dogs older than six months are required to be licensed. The cost for a dog license is $25 in Camas and Washougal. Dogs that are spayed or neutered before being licensed qualify for a $15 rate in Washougal.

Both cities require proof of a current rabies vaccination from a veterinarian, before a license is issued.

Foster’s love of animals stems from his upbringing. He grew up on a farm in Texas, with four dogs, as well as chickens and horses.

Sometimes Foster refers dog owners to certified dog trainers and behavior specialists such as Katie High, of High Expectations, or pest control companies for situations such as birds occupying a fireplace.

“Each call is different,” Foster said.

He responds to an average of 100 calls per month, while Bryan Caine, another C-W animal control officer, averages 79 calls per month so far this year.

“There are days where I will have no calls or one call, and then there are days where I have 12 calls and then everything in between,” Caine said.

Warm weather worries

Pets that are left in vehicles during warm weather is a topic of interest in the local area.

Under state law, people who transport or confine domestic animals in a manner that will jeopardize the safety of the animals or the public are committing a misdemeanor, and the individuals are subject to immediate arrest.

Foster has a supply of handouts, from the Animal Protection Institute, to distribute as needed. They mention that a dog’s normal body temperature ranges from 101 to 102.5 degrees.

“Dogs can withstand a body temperature of 107 to 108 degrees for only a very short period of time before suffering brain damage — or even death,” the card states.

The inside of a car can heat up very quickly.

“When it’s 85 degrees out, the temperature inside a car — even with the windows left slightly open — can soar to 102 degrees in 10 minutes and reach 120 in just half an hour,” according to the institute.