Sidewalk Rules: Mind Your Pet's MannersPublished December 15, 2008
Walking your dog is an opportunity for your pet to explore the neighborhood and bond with your pet. But be sure you know the local laws and etiquette to ensure you are not hit with tickets or fines.
Public sidewalks are just that - public. They are for everyone. If each of us exercises a little consideration, we can all enjoy them. It's better for your community's attitude toward dogs, and it's better for your wallet. Fines of more than $200 can be the penalty for having a dog off-leash in some states.
Walking your dog is an opportunity for your pet to explore the neighborhood and be stimulated by the smells and sights around your home. It is also an opportunity to strengthen your bond with your dog. By keeping your dog on a leash, you keep your pet safe - less likely to eat a toxic substance or run into traffic.
Leash laws vary from state to state. Some states leave the determination of leash laws to local governments. Other areas, including the District of Columbia, require dogs to be confined or restrained at all times. You can find your city's laws in a number of ways. Visit your local city hall or a public library, or use the Internet. Sites like www.AnimalLaw.info provide extensive legal material, including full text cases and U.S. statutes.
Julia Waco, who presides over Animal Court for Multnomah County, Oregon, discusses the various categories of offenses. "If a dog is off-leash and harasses or menaces another person, or bites a person or animal," explains Waco, "the court would impose a fine and certain restrictions for purposes of public safety, such as a muzzle." This is in addition to the exposure the owner may face to civil liability if the victim chooses to sue.
In addition to leash laws, most cities make it your legal responsibility to pick up after your dog. In New York City, for example, the fine for violators can be as much as $100. It pays to be prepared! Dozens of products are available, from consolidated pick-up bag dispensers to shovels and scoopers.
Besides the legal ramifications, there is also the simple matter of good manners. Through diligence on your part, or with the aid of a trainer, your dog can be properly socialized to play nicely with dogs and people alike. Even with the most well-behaved dog, however, take precautions to be considerate of your fellow pedestrians. Be prepared to reel in your dog if someone is approaching. Anyone can lose balance if a dog decides to greet them a little too enthusiastically. In addition, many people harbor a fear of dogs - even if yours is the sweetest and cutest on the block!