Leash Laws: There For a Reason

So, the other day, I was strolling along the Haul Road, minding my own business, when suddenly a medium-size dog loomed out of nowhere and started barking and snapping at me, with no owner in sight. I was, understandably, not comfortable with this situation, so I was holding my ground and looking for some sort of weapon to hold it at bay when suddenly a person appeared and started screaming at me for upsetting the dog.

Uhm, excuse me?

So, here’s the thing. Here in California, we have leash laws. Put simply, if there is a dog which is not in someone’s yard, a leash must be attached to it, and the other end of that leash must be in a human’s hand. There are a lot of reasons for leash laws. One reason is to keep dogs from worrying livestock. One reason is to make sure that dogs are fully controlled so that they don’t attack people or other dogs. And another reason is to make sure that people feel comfortable when they are walking in public, because if you see a dog and you don’t know the dog or the owner and the dog is unleashed, you might be forgiven for feeling uneasy, especially if it’s a big dog. Dogs can severely injure or kill people. Especially in the case of people who have been attacked by dogs in the past, encountering a strange dog which is not on a leash can be a very stressful experience.

“Oh,” but dog owners say. “My dog is fine. My dog is very well trained and would never attack, so I don’t need to keep it on a leash.”

Actually, you do. You need to keep your dog on the leash because it is the law. And, you need to keep your dog on the leash because dogs are unpredictable. Even the most well trained dog can lose it on occasion, and a perfect storm of circumstances could end up with a situation in which someone (human or non-human animal) ended up injured or dead. If you love your dog so much, you should want to protect it from this.

I have been bitten and attacked by unleashed dogs. I’ve lost livestock to dogs. I’ve met lots of people who have experienced one or both of these things, and I’ve noticed that all of the dog owners in this group keep their dogs securely leashed at all times. Unless the dogs are on private property and permission is given to take the leash off, or the dogs are in an off-leash dog park. At all other times, the dog is tightly within their control. On a leash.

Yet, other dog owners apparently feel that the law doesn’t apply to them. And they have the audacity to suggest that it is your fault when their out of control dogs attack you. (Curiously, it’s always poorly trained dogs that are left off-leash. Well trained dogs are always kept secure on the leash.) This dog owner who was freaking out at me freaked out even more when I pointed out that the dog should be on a leash, and that if the State Parks budget wasn’t stretched so thin, a Ranger would already have issued a warning and possibly a ticket about the dog being loose. I suggested that the dog be brought under control or I would call law enforcement.

As we all know, I don’t really like dogs. But, to be honest, I dislike irresponsible dog owners even more. People who are reckless, people who don’t obey the leash laws, they piss me off. They piss me off because I think about people who have been severely mauled by dogs, and how traumatizing it would have been for one of them to encounter an out of control dog while going on a walk on a supposedly safe public trail. They piss me off because I think about young children being traumatized by an aggressive off-leash dog. They piss me off because I think about how a leashed dog could have been attacked and injured, about how wildlife in the area could have been frightened off or injured, about how livestock might be injured or killed. And, yes, they piss me off because I think about what might happen if the unleashed dog walks out into traffic, or gets itself into another dangerous situation.

I kind of put dogs and children in the same class, here: it’s not safe to assume that everyone likes either, and it’s not safe to assume that other people bear responsibility for controlling and protecting either. Bad things happen to poorly controlled dogs and children. They shouldn’t, but they do. Parents and dog owners who actually care about the creatures they have taken responsibility for don’t put them in dangerous positions. (Uhm, I am not suggesting that all children be kept on leashes, incidentally.)

Obviously, people are not allowed to use physical force against uncontrolled children, primarily because there’s nothing to defend themselves from, since children aren’t much of a threat, physically. (And I’m not saying that people should go around randomly assaulting out of control children.)

[Edited to add: The above paragraphs are extremely problematic. They’ve been left in the original post because, well, I said them. I shouldn’t have, but I did. And I don’t erase the record of my foulups. So, let’s revise. Here’s what I was actually trying to say, and failed at: “It’s not safe to assume that everyone likes dogs, or that everyone is willing to take responsibility for a dog when it’s not clear if someone is around to look after the dog. It’s unfortunate that this is the case, but bad things happen to dogs which are not being looked after. They shouldn’t, but they do. Dog owners who care about their dogs should not put them in dangerous positions.” There actually was a reason that I brought children into the discussion, although they should not have been, but I don’t really want to go into it here, because it has much more to do with me personally and the ways in which my brain work than it does with the substance of the post, which is that dogs should not be allowed off leash.]

But people are allowed to defend themselves and their property from an off-leash dog. Livestock owners, for example, are allowed to shoot first and ask questions later. And I would have been well within my right to take aggressive physical action if that dog on the Haul Road had bitten me. I would also have been well within my right to call Animal Control and demand that the dog be put down or placed in immediate quarantine, because of rabies.

Keeping dogs leashed isn’t just about obeying the law and protecting society. It’s also about protecting the dog. And it’s time that people started keeping this in mind, because I am getting really sick of being unable to walk on the streets in town without being attacked by dogs, without having my shoes fouled by dog shit carelessly left on the sidewalk, and without being glared at by dog owners who have the gall to be upset when I appear uneasy around unleashed dogs or even occasionally point out that they are breaking the law, endangering others, and endangering their dogs (to say nothing of endangering my shoes).

9 Replies to “Leash Laws: There For a Reason”

  1. Could not agree more! I have a small Yorkie–any unleashed dog is not only a (possible) danger to me, but to my dog (always leashed, because he tends to get *ridiculously* excited when he sees other dogs). A few people in my dog-friendly apartment complex seem smugly proud of their refusal to leash their animals, justifying it with a nugget such as, “I’m training him to come to me when I call.” Hooray for you–but don’t expect me and my dog to be part of your training.

  2. Loose dogs larger than a pug or boston make me afraid for myself and other animals.

    Loose dogs of the size that don’t make me fear for myself and other animals, make me fear for THEM.

    I learned the hard way about being a responsible owner- two lovely dogs of mine when I lived in a ‘safe’ but unfenced location proved to be livestock chasers, and were shot on sight by a neighbor. The fact I am terrible about training and watching dogs is one reason why I’ve kind of sworn them off as pets, but even if I had a dog fully trained, damn straight it’d now be fenced or leashed at all times.

    I live in a very dog-happy town, and I wish more people would leash ’em here. There’s blocks of town I avoid because I know if I drive past, I’ll have to worry about hitting a dog that’s always loose and that rushes cars that pass, and if I walk past it’ll charge and bark at me, and even ‘friendly’ rushes and barking freak me out due to past bad experiences with other people’s dogs.

    It’s frustrating as hell to go two blocks out of my way walking or driving because I nearly hit or was frightened by someone’s dog. And enraging when I see the owner and complain and they tell me that basically, it’s my job to go those blocks around their house, because their precious has right of way.

  3. I agree with you on dog owners not obeying the law, but… children are different. Children are people. And while I know some people don’t like them – as off-putting as it is to me to think there are people out there who don’t like a whole group of vulnerable people – I think humans have a responsibility to their fellow humans in a way that is different from everyone’s responsibility to someone’s pet.

  4. I cannot agree with you more. And what is so frustrating is that some dog owners can’t connect dog ownership with responsibility. I live in an acerage area and just over a month ago, three dogs from 5 doors down (which, on 2 and a half acre plots isn’t a short walk) happened to get out and killed my beloved cat. It was devastating. I have finally tracked down the location of the dogs and need to talk to the owners before calling the council. The thing that infuriates me more is that one of the dogs is a pig dog. Piggin’ dogs are bred and trained to kill and hunt other animals. Although they can be gentle and loyal with humans, they are not so with other four leggers. To not securely fence these animals is incredibly irresponsible.
    Revoltingly, I understand what your saying in regards to the fact that being a responsible dog owner also protects them. After letting my cat out early in the morning and then getting up to the sound of dogs and my cats screams – and finding him almost ripped apart and having to chase the mongrels from his corpse – I personally felt like taking a bat to the dogs. Which is horrible and despicable. Yet, the urge to protect and then revenge what is yours is terribly present. Naturally, I would never do anything of the sort – and am disgusted at myself for even feeling such things.

  5. Good point, Chally, and I am not trying to create a confusion between children and dogs at all, despite the nastygrams I’ve received over that statement! (Not your comment. Your comment is not a nastygram. The contents of my inbox, on the other hand…)

    What I am trying to stress is that, you know, not everyone likes children and feels comfortable around them, and some people feel extremely uncomfortable with being asked to look after the children of others. For a lot of reasons, which I don’t really want to get into right here. Likewise, some people feel uncomfortable with having dogs thrust upon them.

    This is not to say that the two are the same, AT ALL, but I, personally, have an equal level of discomfort around unattended children that I do around unattended dogs, which is why I used that (clearly unfortunate) analogy. Obviously, there are huge numbers of differences between children and dogs (an unattended dog, for example, is likely to hurt someone else, an unattended child is in danger of being hurt, etc). But…there’s an attitude among some parents and some dog owners that everyone likes children/dogs and therefore can’t possibly have any problems with them. This is what I’m speaking to; obviously, if I see a child in danger, I am going to do something. (Likewise, if I see a dog in danger, I will also do something, although I am unlikely to go as far to save a dog as I will to save a child.)

    It was a stupid thing to say; I admit it. I don’t like the way society treats children and I actively work against that, so repeating the behaviour that disgusts me is pretty reprehensible.

  6. Also, Natalie, that is HORRIFIC. The murder of your cat, not your understandable fury and rage. Irresponsible humans…never think about the consequences of their actions. I don’t know what “justice” would be in this case (uhm, perhaps a commitment to containing the dogs?) but I hope you get it.

  7. “It was a stupid thing to say; I admit it. I don’t like the way society treats children and I actively work against that, so repeating the behaviour that disgusts me is pretty reprehensible.”

    This, repeated for emphasis. Per site policy, I am not going to delete incidences of me being an asshat. But I will own my mess ups, and I messed up. Not. Cool. Comparing children to animals is extremely problematic. It was thoughtless and it was not appropriate. Thanks to Chally and Arwyn for not only calling me out on this, but being willing to have a conversation with me about it.

  8. That’s good. I was going to (in a very loving way, because I hate starting that cliche of the Mommy vs the Childfree feminist feud), because I was a little off-put. But, more appropriately, thank you for owning that. Beyond anything, while parents do have responsibilities, children are people. I appreciate the effort you made (and that is how you own a mistake, FWIW *ahem*).

    I had a friend when I was stationed at Ft. Ord who had a dog that would RUN. We had fenced yards, but her dog would run and jump the fence and take off. Love her as I did I always worried about that, because the dog should have been leashed in the yard if he couldn’t be trusted. I defended her when Mr. Backyard Breeder got angry because her dog ran to his yard w/ his unattended dog, but yeah…

    I am very very anxious around dogs bigger than pugs (and I saw a beagle kill another dog once, and they make me nervous). Not only do I agree on this point, but I wish more states had leash laws or enforced them.

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