On a local Facebook page, there was a discussion about dogs being walked off leash in the neighborhood. This was a great discussion, and I thought it would make a great topic for my column.
Most people that want to walk off leash with their dogs seek out designated off leash parks for that activity. People in the parks are aware that there will be dogs off leash, and take the appropriate steps to ensure a safe enjoyment in those designated spaces. There can be complications, but in general, it seems to work, and we are seeing expansion/addition of these areas in most urban centres.
Walking off leash in the neighborhood, though, is not an activity that is safe, or legal. In Winnipeg, we have the “Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw”. In it, it states that unless the dog is on the owner’s property, on the property of another person who has consented to the presence of the unleashed dog, or in an off-leash area, that “the dog is at all times kept on a leash that is never longer than 20 feet in length and no longer than 6 feet in length when the dog is on a street, on a path or any other place that is not an open space or when people or other animals are within 20 feet of the dog”. From my interpretation of the fine section of the by-law, failure to do this could result in a $200 fine.
Yet we still see people walking their dogs off leash outside the “off leash designated areas”. Most of these people have well trained animals that are well behaved and they would not expect them to be a problem under normal circumstances. Unfortunately, it is not the normal circumstances that are the issue, but when unusual things happen. That is when we need the control of the animal that a leash provides.
Many dogs can be more aggressive when on leash, it seems like being tethered to their human amplifies their need to protect them. This may be the reason some people prefer walking without the leash on. Others simply trust the animal and their training.
When an outside stimulus is added, we can have an issue. Another dog, on or off leash, a child with food in hand, a cat/squirrel/fox, all of these can evoke a response from the offleash pet that is outside what we would expect. Without the control factor a leash provides, this can let the dog get into trouble. If the offleash dog is involved in an attack, even if it is provoked, the dog and its owner can be found at fault, and liable for the resulting outcome, because they were in violation of the bylaw at the time.
I’m not sure what the civil legal recourse would be for any damages caused, but the owner could face the fine for their actions. The animal, however can face much harsher penalties, including death. If it is decided that the animal is exceptionally dangerous (and all that takes is the Chief Operating Officer of animal services to deem the dog so), then the dog can be destroyed.
I know it is hard to believe, but not everyone loves dogs, and some even have a deathly fear of them, and an offleash dog can be terrifying. Our neighbors deserve the right to enjoy the outdoors without the concern of being attacked, regardless how small we may think that chance may be. And our pets deserve to be protected as well from getting into trouble that may cost them their life.
We need to see leashes not as a negative, but more like we look at a seat belt. It might be inconvenient, and we may never need it, but when we do, it can save a life.