by Scott D. Seligman
While out walking my dog the other night, I ran into another dog owner whose pooch was off the leash. This struck me as a bad idea and I challenged him about it. He assured me what he was doing was perfectly legal, that his dog was very obedient, and that as long as it was under his control – which by him meant voice control – there wasn’t anything wrong with it. That was before he suggested I perform an unnatural act on myself.
I decided to verify his assertion about the law, which I was pretty sure was incorrect. It turns out it that the leash requirement is crystal clear. According to the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations for Animal Control:
No person owning, keeping, or having custody of a dog in the District shall permit the dog to be on any public space in the District, other than a dog park established by section 9a of the Animal Control Act of 1979… unless the dog is firmly secured by a substantial leash. The leash shall be held by a person capable of managing the dog.
I’m not the guy who likes to lecture other people about how to live their lives. I only piped up with my neighbor out of concern for the dogs’ safety – mine and his. But the more I thought about the incident, the more I wished I had pursued the matter with him as one dog lover to another. Here’s what I wish I’d said:
1. Walking a dog off-leash is inconsiderate of others on the street or in the park who may be afraid of dogs, or who are walking dogs of their own that are leashed. Your dog may be very friendly, but strangers don’t know this, and some don’t care to encounter an unrestrained animal, even a friendly one. The experience can be especially terrifying to young kids. And if your pooch gets into a tussle with mine, how will you pull him or her off? There’s no safe way to separate them before damage is done.
2. You may have confidence that your dog will obey you, but all it takes is one random squirrel or rabbit for even the best-trained dog to heed the call of nature and dart into the street. Close your eyes and picture yourself cradling your bloody animal, just struck by a passing car and in pain, as you try to find a way to get to Friendship Animal Hospital quickly for emergency treatment or worse, euthanasia. In what universe was forgoing a leash worth the risk of that happening?
3. There are fenced-in dog parks where your pup can run unfettered and enjoy the company of other dogs whose owners have the same idea. There’s one on Newark Street. I assume you love your dog as much as I do mine; he or she will be far safer untethered there than on the sidewalk.
4. I realize you’re not likely to get pulled over by a cop for a mutt off the leash. But if you do happen to run into a policeman bent on throwing the book at you, you’ll be on the hook for a $300 fine.
For nearly all of our wonderful neighborhood’s dog owners, I know I’m preaching to the choir. But for anyone considering letting a dog run untethered on our sidewalks or in our parks, I implore you to show your neighbors a little more respect and your dog a little more love and follow the law. It’s a good law.