Concerns raised about dogs left in parked, locked vehicles on hot days

By Don Nelson

It’s enough to cause a “small riot,” acting Marshal Ken Bajema told the Winthrop Town Council last week: someone leaves a dog locked in a parked vehicle with the windows closed on a hot summer day.

“Every year we have several incidents,” Bajema said, when concerned people gather around parked cars or trucks with dogs apparently suffering inside.

In the past, he said, the town has had no way to respond to such incidents or to punish the perpetrators, Bajema said.

That’s about to change. On Bajema’s recommendation, the council will consider an ordinance that would define leaving an animal unattended in such conditions as a civil infraction, subject to a fine of $50 per offense.

Officially, the amended town ordinance would provide that it’s unlawful for “any person to confine, without adequate ventilation, any animal in any box, container or vehicle.” The proposed amendment would also make it illegal to tether an animal in a way that might cause injury or pain; or keep an animal in space where it might be inadequately protected from heat or cold or unable to move about freely. Finally, the amended ordinance would make it illegal to “keep an animal in an unsanitary condition or fail to provide sufficient food, water, shelter or ventilation necessary for the good health of the animal.”

Bajema said the recommendations are adapted from Seattle’s municipal code.

In a memo to the council, Bajema noted that “our ability to get into a vehicle to help animals is very limited.”

“In many cases, the animal has to die or suffer severe physical injury and we have to prove the owner intentionally left the animal in the vehicle, or in extremely poor conditions, knowing harm would come to the animal,” Bajema wrote.

“Right now all I can do is lecture people,” Bajema told the council last week.

Council members supported Bajema’s request, and will consider the amendment ordinance in the near future.

In other business, the council turned down a request from Jim Neupert, market master for the Winthrop Market, to close all or part of the town library parking lot to accommodate vendors who will sell vintage collectibles. The market is staged on Sundays in Mack Lloyd Park from Memorial Day through Labor Day, and features locally made products.

Neupert said the market wants to expand its offerings to help draw more shoppers. He said the collectibles vendors would likely operate from their cars, and it would be easier to use the library parking lot than the grassy area in the park.

But council members and Mayor Sue Langdalen said they don’t want to lose valuable parking space in the library lot on Sundays during the peak tourism season. Council members agreed to consider alternatives that might make things easier for the vendors.

The council also approved a request by the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce to install information signs on Highway 20 at the west and east entrances to town — one just south of the bridge over the Chewuch River, and one just north of the bridge over the Methow River.

Kristen Smith, marketing director for the chamber, said the signs will be removable and will only be up during summer and fall, and are intended to help direct people to the town center.

The signs once were at the Winthrop Library when that building was the visitor center. They were created by Marti Darling, who has painted many other murals and signs that hang in downtown Winthrop.