Unleashed and At Large.
Short ones. Tall ones. Big ones. Small ones. There are a lot of dogs in my neighborhood. If you live in America, you probably have a canine or two as neighbors too.
We Americans share our homes with more than 78 million dogs, according to the American Pet Products Association 2011-2012 National Pet Owners Survey. And those are the dogs with owners. More than half of us (60%) had one dog; a quarter of those owners (28%) had two. As for feral dogs and others without homes, the ASPCA says it’s impossible to know how many are at large.
We love our dogs. In my neighborhood, it’s not unusual to see one of the many owners walking with leashed pets at almost any time of day. Differences between them are notable. For some, the walk looks to be a leisurely stroll with the dog ambling along at the owner’s side. Others stride along purposefully, as if they know precisely where they are going. I envy them.
My dog Macy yanks me hither and yon. She’s a 10-pound Yorkie/Silky mix who has to smell every bush and mark each yard, flower and blade of grass that dares catch her attention. Squirrels and birds are another story. When she sees what might seem to be easy prey, the walk becomes a test of will, as in how fast will Gaynelle run before she passes out, or yells in frustration.
I imagine how relaxing it must be to walk through the neighborhood, letting your dog run without a leash, exploring and sniffing, running freely while you peruse a newspaper or chat on the phone. It sounds idyllic and would be great, if it were legal in Montgomery County. But it’s not.
On letting a dog run free or be “at large” in the neighborhood, Montgomery County Animal Control Laws are quite clear. “Any dog is at large if it is outside the owner’s premises and not leashed, unless it is a service dog, is in a dog exercise area designated by the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, or it is participating in an approved activity.”
The fine for a first offense is $100 and it increases to $500 for subsequent violations.
As loveable as I think my dog is, I know from dog bites experienced as a child that one should always be cautious about strange canines. Bites aside, some people just don’t like dogs. Fear is another factor. A good friend and neighbor of mine will change her route to avoid passing a cat. And dogs? When we were approached one summer morning by a tail wagging, strange and leash-less dog, my friend almost climbed up my back to get away.
Macy’s lucky. She has a fenced-in back yard to run around in. Our walks are my way of providing exercise, variety and encouragement for her to clear her intestines by the clock. I understand that all dogs don’t have their own fenced-in playgrounds.
Several times a week, Macy and I cross paths with another neighbor who regularly walks his dog without a leash. The dog is cute and friendly enough, but the encounters are what got me to thinking about the legalities of it all. This neighbor also walks his dog with no apparent apparatus for picking up poop. On that subject, the county’s fine is $100 if the offending offal is not immediately removed.
Unlike the dog “at large’ law, there’s no escalation of fines for subsequent offences. Perhaps the lawmakers felt that no one would pay $100 to avoid scooping poop more than once.
You can find a summary of the Montgomery County Animal Control Laws at: http://www6.montgomerycountymd.gov/poltmpl.asp?url=/content/POL/districts/MSB/animal/summarylaws.asp