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Leash laws are in place for a good reason: Public safety

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on May 9, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
May 10, 2012 9:00 am

Dog owners can let their pets run free in off-leash areas such as this one at Fort Steilacoom Park in Lakewood. (Staff file photo)

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

A Puyallup judge dismissed fines given to a dog owner for failing to have his two large labrador retrievers on leashes in a city park. The judge found that the man misinterpreted the leash law as including the electronic collars his dogs wore.

Not to argue with the judge, but that’s ridiculous. Everyone knows that a leash is a leash and that an electronic collar isn’t one.

And the city’s law is clear: Leashes are required on dogs when they’re in public places; it says nothing about electronic collars being equivalent to leashes.

According to Puyallup’s municipal code: “No dog shall be permitted, except on a leash, to use or be on any public street, sidewalk, parkway or public place within the city limits,” and “No leash shall be greater than 8 feet in length.”

It really couldn’t be much clearer.

Terry Nelson of Puyallup was using electronic collars on his golden labs so they could practice hunting techniques. He admits that the dogs were 20 to 30 yards away from him – up to 82 feet farther away than allowed by the leash law. Even if Nelson thought that the collars were equivalent to leashes, he should not have allowed them to be more than 8 feet away from him.

Puyallup – like unincorporated Pierce County and most of its cities – has a leash law for a reason: public safety. While many, if not most, dogs could probably be trusted to behave when they’re out in public, enough of them pose a threat that leash laws are necessary. It’s not uncommon for unleashed dogs to run up to small children or frail adults and frighten or knock them over. Many dog owners have stories about how their leashed pets were attacked by dogs running off-leash.

An electronic collar depends on constant line of sight if it’s to be an effective control device. What happens on a trail when the dog goes around a bend and cannot be seen by the owner? How can the owner know that he must exert control should the dog encounter people, another dog or wildlife?

How is someone who sees a large dog approaching supposed to know that it is actually on a “leash,” just one that can’t be seen – especially if the owner isn’t in sight?

Requiring an actual leash on a dog – not an invisible one – is also important for enforcement purposes. An officer can spot an infraction from a distance and does not have to park, confront the dog owner and inspect the equipment to ensure that it actually is an electronic collar in working condition – complete with live batteries.

If dog owners want their animals to run free, they can take them to one of the area’s off-leash parks. There’s no excuse for allowing them to run unrestrained in a city park, no matter how well-behaved their owners think they are. Too many people have found out the hard way that their dogs aren’t always the gentle animals they thought they were.

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