May 06, 2011

Leash Laws

There's been an ongoing conversation at my favorite website for the last several days about leash laws, and when it is all right to let dogs off their leashes. I started to reply, but realized I wanted my thoughts to be shared with a wider audience. When I say "you", I mean people in general rather than any specific person I know--unless it applies to you.

The arguments essentially boiled down to these:

On the keep the dogs leashed side:
  • Many children are afraid of dogs, even friendly ones, because the dog is bigger than the child.
  • Many people are allergic to dog dander/hair.
  • "Other People's Dogs" might harm "MY Dog".
  • If my dog runs after a squirrel I may never see it again.
  • Many people have been bitten by off-leash dogs in leash-only areas.
  • People feel it's their right to pet my dog without asking, and if it is leashed, I have better control of the situation.

On the unleash the dog side:
  • But MY dog is friendly/doesn't bite/only wants to say hello.
  • My poor doggy has been in the car all day and needs to run.
  • My dog is well trained and obeys every command, so it's safe, and the sign doesn't apply to me.

I am not a dog lover, or a dog hater.

Although not an elderly person, I am a little unsteady on my feet. I have arthritis from head to toe. Sometimes just walking is all I can manage. No one can see my disability just by looking at me. Someday in the future I will be in a wheelchair, but my doctor has told me walking is the best exercise to push that day as far into the future as possible. I get out and walk as much as possible, but often have to take my walker with me. Two years ago I had a bad fall. I tripped on a curb and dislocated my elbow. I have not fully recovered from the fall, and am terrified that another fall will result in a more debilitating injury.  The point here is that a big, friendly dog who won't bite can still be a danger to me simply by knocking me down.

Here's the point:

If there's a sign designating it's an off-leash area, then I know what I'm risking (being knocked over by a friendly dog and getting badly injured in the fall) by venturing past that sign.

If there is no sign, use your discretion. Again, I have chosen to go into that area, knowing I may meet off-leash dogs.

If there is a sign stating dogs must be on leashes, the dog better be on a leash; not because it is polite, not because it's a bad dog, but because it is the LAW that the dog must be leashed in that area. When I choose to walk only in areas where it is posted that dogs must be on a leash, I choose to walk there to protect my own safety. Dog owners have the choice to walk that path with their dog on a leash, or to break the law and let their dog off the leash. It's that simple, no judgment call is required.

Laws are not there to limit our freedom. I choose to walk only on leash-required paths instead of all trails, because I am concerned about being knocked over by a large and overly friendly dog. Dog owners who choose to walk on leash-required paths should obey the law and use a leash. They also have the choice to walk on undesignates and unleashed paths. There are many places not posted either way, and many places posted for off-leash dogs. If you want to walk your dog off-leash, take them to where it is legal to do so, but please don't risk my future by breaking the law.

I guarantee you that if your unleashed dog knocks me down in a posted leash area, and I am hurt because of it, you will be meeting me in court, you will be paying my medical bills, and you will be losing your dog. The laws are not just there to protect other people from your dog, they are there to protect your dog from other dogs, to protect your dog from other people, and to protect you from lawsuits. However the laws only work when we all obey them.