So, a few weeks ago, my girlfriend Alanna and I were running up and down the poorly lit residential sidestreets of Glendale, shouting coordinated attack patterns at each other like SWAT team members and occasionally getting barked at by a German shepherd.
We were trying to catch him. He wasn’t a stray — he had a collar and tags. Every time we got close he would get nervous, and start to bark and growl, and not even our most high-pitched nice-doggy voices would soothe him out of hostility. In the end we just ended up calling 311 and reporting him to Animal Control. At least he wasn’t on a main artery with lots of traffic.
But a few weeks before that we were driving up and down Los Feliz Boulevard with the windows down and our heads stuck out – kind of like dogs ourselves – listening for the jingling collar of a mutt we’d been tracking since Griffith Park. Where the shepherd was hostile, the mutt was evasive, and again we simply called 311.
They’re not all failures. We’ve caught a few, and reunited them with their owners. Like the dalmatian Alanna watched fall out of a moving SUV at the intersection of Franklin and Vine. Or the black lab that seemed to be waiting for me the moment I left our apartment. Or the scruffy mixed-breed I coaxed into a helpful stranger’s car during an interrupted run.
Seriously: You guys need to keep a better eye on your dogs.
Because I live in Los Feliz, I walk a lot – to the grocery store, to the movies, out to eat. And I’d say that I see a dog off-leash in about one out of every three or four trips. And I’m reasonably certain I could predict what any of those dog owners would say if I confronted them: Oh, he’s not going anywhere. He’s very well-behaved. He’s such a big baby that he doesn’t want to leave my side.
And I’m sure he’s a wonderful pet. But I sure do see a lot of posters in my neighborhood offering rewards for lost dogs.
Here’s the problem with leash laws: They have bad PR. Most dog owners think they’re there only because the general public has a fear of strange dogs. In these days of plastic playgrounds and professional baby-proofers, everyone is so terrified of their own shadow that every unattended dog is a potential Cujo.
And that may be true to some extent. But the unintended consequence of compelling dog owners to keep their dogs leashed is that their dogs don’t run off and get lost. They don’t wind up becoming stray dogs. They don’t wind up – forgive me – getting attacked and eaten by coyotes.
Here’s the LA County law in a nutshell: No person who owns or has charge of a dog may allow it to run at large. Violation may result in a citation, court appearance and a fine of up to $250.
Two hundred and fifty bucks. That’s nothing. It’s less than a speeding ticket. And your probability of being caught is next to nothing. You think some cop is gonna come from out of nowhere and write you a ticket for letting Champ off his leash for a few minutes? Nah.
So here’s my declaration to you, scofflaw dog owners. If I bring your stray dog home with me, I will keep him for exactly one month before contacting you. I love dogs, and because I occasionally serve as a foster parent for one of the city’s animal shelters, I have everything I need to house a dog for several weeks. Don’t worry — you’ll get him back. But it’s important to me — and to your dog — that you learn a hard lesson about keeping an eye on him.
Yeah, yeah, I know. I can almost see the angry capitalized screeds in the comments now. If it makes you feel any better, it probably won’t happen. I’m tired of spending my time chasing down other people’s dogs. I’m tired of the feeling I get when I can’t catch them, and the worry that something terrible might happen to them because their owners weren’t responsible enough to keep them leashed or fenced in properly. So these days I just keep moving and try not to think about it. You can’t solve every problem yourself.
But seriously. Anyone reading this: Take care of your dog. Keep him fenced in. Keep him on a leash. Don’t roll the damn car windows down all the way if he’s small enough to fall out of them on a hard curve. And don’t do it because some jerk with a blog is making an emotional appeal. Do it because you owe it to your dog.
I’m pretty sure he’d do the same for you.