Portland drug-sniffing dog blamed for llama attack in Warren
A Portland Police Bureau K-9 that attacked a llama near the K-9 handler's home in Columbia County over the summer will be allowed to continue living in Warren.
In late July, Stitch, a 4-year-old Belgian Malinois that works as a drug detection dog for the Portland Police Bureau, escaped the home of her handler, Chris Verbout, and attacked a neighbor's llama.
An animal attack on livestock can result in a range of consequences for both animal and owner, including fines, removal from the home or euthanization.
Columbia County commissioners voted last month to allow Stitch to remain in her handler's home.
During a late July heat wave, the dog was brought into the Verbouts' home and the shock collar she typically wore was removed, officials said. The dog escaped when the front door was open, running and jumping multiple fences to get to the llama.
The llama, Oreo, had not been sheared recently. Its thick fur at the time prevented more serious injuries, owners Kerry and Yvonne Pea said, but the llama was still injured and traumatized.
"If that dog had attacked today, my llama would be dead," Yvonne Pea said.
The 15-year-old llama "is part of our family," she added.
Verbout told county commissioners that when Stitch wore her collar, she had no issues following commands.
"A highly trained dog should be able to be called off with anything or anyone," Commissioner Henry Heimuller said at an August hearing of the Columbia County Board of Commissioners.
Commissioners expressed concern about the dog only consistently obeying commands while wearing her collar.
"I would recommend that she be able to behave without a collar. Dogs can do that," Commissioner Margaret Magruder said.
After the attack, Columbia County animal control officer Roger Kadell allowed the dog to be kept at the Verbouts' home under a "home impound agreement" because of the "special circumstances" of the case.
Heimuller said he believed the dog should have "been immediately taken into custody, because that's what we do with all dogs. I don't think that we should create new processes on the fly for these kinds of things."
The llama suffered injuries from jumping over two barbed wire fences to flee the dog. Written testimony from the Peas' adult daughter said she witnessed the dog attack the llama and do a "death shake" while biting into the llama's neck.
According to the written testimony, Verbout quickly followed the dog when it escaped but struggled for minutes to detach the dog's bite from the llama's neck.
Verbout told county commissioners that he pulled the dog off the llama but that he did not have to pry its jaws open.
"I believe that this was an isolated incident and can be prevented in the future. I believe I've shown I'm a responsible dog owner not only how I acted that night, but the steps we've done to prevent this from happening again. And lastly, I'd just say, Stitch has basically become a member of my family," Chris Verbout told county commissioners.
Stitch is not used to track and apprehend suspects like some other police K-9s, but commissioners were still concerned about her potential for uncontrolled aggression.
"It's probably the sticking point that you're gonna have to wrestle with today, is that in order for Stitch to do her work, she needs to live with her family. She is a pack animal. She needs to be socialized. If she cannot live with her handler, she cannot do her job," Mike Porter, a Portland deputy city attorney, told the commissioners.
But, Porter acknowledged, "we have a canine who gave into its nature as a dog and did something that was unacceptable, that was dangerous, that was traumatizing to livestock and to livestock owners."
A motion to allow the dog to stay in the Verbouts' home passed 2-1, with Magruder voting no.
Stitch, who had been with Verbout for less than a year at the time of the incident, typically stayed in a kennel outside the home. The Portland Police Bureau reinforced the kennel after the incident, though Stitch didn't escape from the kennel before chasing the llama.
Verbout said Stitch would now have her collar on any time she is not in the kennel. The department also purchased an electric fence as an additional measure and added misters to the kennel so that Stitch could remain in the kennel even on hot days.
Yvonne Pea said she plans to appeal.
The Peas weren't notified of the county hearing until the Friday afternoon before the hearing, and Monday was spent in an all-day surgery for Kerry Pea, which left little time to prepare for the hearing, Yvonne Pea said.
The Peas aren't satisfied with the county commissioners' decision to allow the dog to continue living with the Verbout family.
"It seems as though they only voted yes because (she's) a police dog," Pea said.
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