The Problem With Leash Laws

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.

7 thoughts on “The Problem With Leash Laws”

  1. here here.
    The “leash-less” always say “don’t worry- my dog is ok”.. but its not YOUR dog I am worried about lady- its MY dog, who is going to go apeshit and take a big ol bite out of your butt sniffer.

    the worst is on the hiking trails. HUGE pain in the butt for those of us with a dog on a leash

  2. Did you really censor the dogs face out of the picture? lol

    Good blog. I LOVE dogs myself, and have done the same thing as you have. I don’t understand how so many of them run away…

  3. We have a neighbor who rescues a revolving collection of @ 5 strays and lets them roam free in our Los Feliz nabe and on trails because she sentimentally and mistakenly believes they were born free and should remain so. Every single one of these poor beasts comes within a hair’s breadth of getting creamed by a car every day of the week and are constantly being picked up by Animal Control. Not to mention that they poop all over all of our yards and frighten the children and workers — and our own dogs — because she doesn’t bother with the most minimal commands. IMHO, she’s certifiable, but has many sympathizers (none who live on this street, however) and I’m sure there are lots more like her out there. I don’t know if this wrong-headed (and dangerous) romantization(sp?) can be educated out such people. And thanks for the opportunity to vent.

  4. Thank you for this post. My dog is an angel, and velcro. We’ve stopped taking her to the dog park in part because she spends most of her time hanging out with us instead of playing with other dogs. The only time she is off leash is when the all gates are closed at our small apartment complex to give her a running start to jog up our stairs. I would never let her walk with no leash – what if there’s a squirrel, or magical bacon truck? I don’t care how well-trained your dog is, he or she is going to bolt in those cases. I get similarly freaked out by dogs tied to posts outside stores and whatnot.

    We adopted Ardala 4 years ago and learned she was originally picked up as a stray. She was perfectly potty trained, very well-socialized, has super-awesome bite inhibition (like when we’re playing with her and she gets a little bitey-face, she redirects herself to a squeaky toy so she doesn’t play-bite us) and has many other habits that lead me to believe she was someone else’s beloved housepet once upon a time. Their loss.

    There have been several large, loose dogs in the neighborhood lately, and after I’m done freaking out about them (are they aggressive? fearful? full of fleas?) trying to keep my very inquisitive dog from them, I worry greatly for their health and safety. Since most of these dogs have no collars I’m assuming that they’ve been let loose when people move. But that’s another rant for another day.

  5. Hallelujah and amen. My wife and I foster and volunteer for a rescue organization (anybody want to foster a one-eyed Boston Terrier??). Aside from just seeing how many dogs we have to place that obviously escaped from an owner somewhere, I have occasion to walk unpredictable dogs frequently and I’m blown away by how often I run into selfish jackholes with their dogs off-leash. We once had a woman tell us we were assholes because our foster, who was an abused dog that we were training for leash aggression issues, got upset when her unleashed lab ran up to us uninvited and unexpectedly and our dog freaked out on him. It’s a downright pandemic in places like Elysian Park. Given the city’s budget problems, maybe they should consider sending a few people there and over to the reservoir in Silver Lake to start issuing some tickets.

    I would also add to your list of things that don’t happen to leashed dogs is that they don’t get away get picked up by people of questionable morals to be used as bait in training dogs for dog fights. And I can’t reiterate strongly enough what starchy said: it’s not about how good your dog is off the leash, it’s about how bad everything else around him can potentially be. You just never know what’s going to happen. We once had an adopting couple tell us that they’d been having problems with people in their neighborhood walking their dogs off-leash and being rude when they were called out for it. Until, that is, one of those “oh, he’s great off-leash, what’s your problem” dogs got scared by an unexpected loud noise while walking and bolted out into a busy street, where he was hit and killed by a car. I sympathize with anybody that loses a pet, but I’m also more than ready to point out when it was the fault of a negligent owner.

  6. I’m so happy that all the comments here are in favor of your blog!!

    And I heartily second everyone who’s mentioned the hiking problem. I *love* animals, especially dogs, and I’m not afraid of them. But I like to go running on trails. And frequently, some off-leash dog decides he’d much rather play with me than placidly walk by his owner. I don’t blame him! But by “play” I mean “suddenly jump on me,” often with much gnawing and barking. Dudes, I’m 5′ 1″. I don’t think it’s funny or cute that your pit-mix is jumping on me. Have some respect for your fellow humans, and show your canine that you really care.

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