Police dog attack raises county liability concerns

OSAGE — The Mitchell County Board of Supervisors had a lot to talk about recently when members found the county’s drug dog attacked another dog and scratched a girl.

Sheriff Curt Younker confirmed that Winnie, a German shepherd dog, attacked another smaller dog and scratched a girl recently during a public appearance. About 12 other children were present, he said.

The county’s liability insurance carrier is raising potential coverage questions because the dog was purchased with donated funds instead of county money.

According to Younker, a young girl brought a small dog out of a house at the site of a recent public appearance and Winnie attacked unprovoked.

Younker said the girl received a small scratch that did not penetrate the skin and did not need medical treatment. The dog that was attacked was treated by a veterinarian and is OK.

Younker said this was the second time Winnie attacked another dog. He said any time Winnie is near children or is off the leash he will be muzzled.

According to Deputy Greg Halbach, Winnie was used for police work 50 times in the last year, including 17 drug finds. The dog also assisted with six search warrants and performed one school search for narcotics.

The dog was used six times for tracking subjects, assisted in the finding of a suicidal subject who fled from law enforcement and assisted in finding a lost girl.

“Having a K-9 helps all law enforcement in Mitchell County,” Halbach said.

Supervisor Joel Voaklander said Heartland Insurance had concerns with potential liability issues and asked how the dog was purchased.

The sheriff’s department sought private donations for the $8,500 purchase of the dog last year. The cost included handler training.

Supervisor Stan Walk asked why tax dollars were not used and why funding was not sought from the county.

“In issues where there can be possible liability issues and more liability expenditures we have to be a part of it and we never were,” Walk said.

“Dogs have bit people at other functions. These dogs are trained to be vicious, not to be pets,” he said.

Younker said his department didn’t think funding would be available through the county because of tight budgets so it decided to raise money privately.

Maintenance costs including food, vet visits and certifications have also been paid for through private donations, he said.

He said in the future county funds may need to be sought to some degree to keep up the maintenance.

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