KIRO 7 Investigates: Why it's so hard to track dangerous dogs in Washington

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. — A woman was violently attacked by her friend's dog in Pierce County. Now she's trying to find out if that dog had bitten anyone before or has since.

Diane Dambacher was visiting a friend in University Place in November. She said without warning, the dog charged her and latched onto her left arm.

She says the dog's owner was horrified and yelled at the dog, a female pit bull, to let go of Dambacher's arm. The dog left behind severe gashes.

Her friend rushed her to the hospital.

Dambacher filed a complaint with Pierce County Animal Control and tried to find out the dog's history.

The friend only had the dog for six weeks after getting it from a rescue.

She talked to her longtime friend after the incident.

"She said all the right things on the phone. She said, "We're never going to be able to let her outside without a leash. We're never going to let her roam in the house when people come over," said Dambacher. "So it sounded like she was going to do something. I don't know what, banish the dog or put the dog down?"

Animal Control quarantined the dog for 10 days.  Dambacher said her friend  kept the dog.

"It's obvious to me the dog is dangerous because it was dangerous to me. I don't see how morally you can let that happen again," said Dambacher.

Dambacher tried to find out the dog's history. When she couldn't, she asked KIRO-7 for help.

KIRO 7  went to Pierce County Animal Control and asked if there was a way to find out if the dog had bitten anyone before.

"That's going to be the hard part, because if we don't have any record of the animal, it would be based off of where the person acquired the animal. If they lived in a different location, different municipalities," said Brian Boman, the supervisor of Pierce County Animal Control.

This dog was a rescue; Dambacher doesn't know where it came from.

If a dog is declared dangerous or potentially dangerous by Pierce County Animal Control there are requirements for the owner.

The owner must purchase a permit, have insurance, and animal control checks on the dog every year. The dog must where a brightly colored color, and be restrained with a leash and a muzzle when it leaves the owner's property.

Right now, Pierce County Animal Control is monitoring about 400 dogs.

To track an animal's history requires the cooperation of the owner to find out where they obtained the dog.

If a dog is deemed dangerous and moves outside of Pierce County Animal Control's jurisdiction, the owner must notify Animal Control 48 hours ahead of time. Pierce County will contact the animal control agencyconnected to the new address.

"If they move out and they don't notify us, they're getting referred up to the prosecutor's office for possible criminal charges," said Boman.

But Boman says all jurisdictions have different rules when it comes to dangerous and potentially dangerous dogs. "Some of the agencies don't have county codes. If it's potentially dangerous, they don’t regulate potentially dangerous animals. The state requires that it's on the municipality or jurisdiction to govern those, so it's all dependent on their codes," Boman explained.

KIRO 7 asked Boman if it would be easier if there were a database to track dangerous dogs.

"It would definitely make it easier but it would be hard because who would regulate it, who would track it? Who would to the entries into it?  Each agency is going to have so many different variables to it." said Boman.

Where the attack happens determines what happens next.

Pierce County says most dog bites are not reported, and whether or not a dog is deemed "dangerous" comes down to the discretion of the investigating officer.

The dog that bit Dambacher was not added to the dangerous dog list, partly because at the time, Dambacher was satisfied thinking her friend would contain or give up the dog.

For Dambacher, the attack cost her a friendship of nearly 50 years, and the attack left scars that are a constant reminder of the danger some dogs can pose.

"I mean, this was a big bite that damaged me," said Dambacher. "I can't imagine what it would do to a kid."

The owner of the dog contacted KIRO 7 and said she regrets the trauma and injury to Dambacher, has apologized, and paid for her out of pocket medical costs. She said she fenced her yard, keeps the dog away from children and other guests and muzzles the dog when she leaves her property.

She also says she took the dog to a certified animal behaviorist who says the dog was being protective, not aggressive, when it bit Dambacher, who had raised her arm to steady herself on the dog owner’s car.

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