Dog Law - Level 3
Dog Laws in Our Daily Lives
From leash laws to barking ordinances and more, learn about how communities regulate dog ownership in everyday life.
By Lynn M. Hayner
In an attempt to balance the rights of dog owners with the rights and safety of the public, the laws impact a wide variety of owners’ daily decisions. While our dog is legally defined as property, laws control how we handle property. Ordinances may regulate where and how we can walk our dogs, if we can tie our dogs up, how much our dogs can bark, how many dogs we can own, how diligently we must pick up after them and where we can bury them when they die. Some states address these topics, but the majority of dog laws are local ordinances.
Leash law violations can be costly. In Lakeway, Texas, a leashed pet community, an owner running his dog off-lead out of his own yard may be fined $150. Fines vary with municipality, as does the intensity of enforcement. “As cities have become more populated, leash laws have become more restrictive, as well as more specific,” explains Robert Newman, animal law attorney of Santa Ana, Calif. For example, most laws now specify leash length as typically no more than six feet.
To determine your locality’s leash laws, or laws prohibiting animals running at large, contact your local animal control or municipal offices. Once you know the applicable laws, talk to neighbors and dog owners about local enforcement customs. While it’s your obligation to know and obey your local laws, there may be flexibility regarding enforcement in specific circumstances (swimming holes or early morning runs, for example).
Dogs may be legally impounded after authorities discover them running at large. Since dogs are classified as personal property, a dog not collected by the owner in a timely manner may be regarded as abandoned property. “The most affordable way to protect a dog in this situation is to have a collar, microchip and identification tag on the dog,” Newman says.
Typically, a local pound or shelter will impound a dog for five to 10 days after attempts to notify the owner. If the owner does not claim the dog within the time period designated (usually five to 10 days), the dog may be put up for adoption or euthanized. Owners are charged for the impounding period and often additional charges as well. In San Francisco, CA, for example, owners pay a progressive fine depending on how many times the dog has been impounded, along with $25 per day for care and additional fees for vaccinations or licenses.
If your dog is an escape artist, capable of maneuvering under or over any fence, think twice before you tether him in your yard. Some cities, and even a few states, restrict the tethering or chaining of dogs altogether. California for example has passed legislation (with some exceptions, such as the use of a trolley line) prohibiting dog owners from chaining or tethering their pets. Some city ordinances mandate time restrictions on tethering. Other cities, such as Austin, Texas, have passed an ordinance to ban the chaining and tethering of unattended dogs altogether.
Although your dog may be on your property, his noise may carry off your property. Your right to own a dog that alarm barks, for example, must be balanced with your neighbor’s desire for complete quiet around his home. By allowing barking to disturb neighbors, you may be in violation of either a general nuisance, noise or a specific dog disturbance ordinance.
In Denver, Colo., for example, owners may not permit dogs to disturb neighbors with “loud and persistent or habitual barking, yowling or yelping.” If a neighbor complains, animal control officers may issue a warning. For repeat violations in particular, fines may be imposed. “In an extreme case, the dog can be declared a public nuisance and removed from the owner,” Newman says.
Number of Dogs
Some cities, in the interest of public health, welfare, or connected to nuisance issues, have enacted ordinances curtailing the number of dogs any one residence can own.
In Fairfax, Va., for example, no more than four dogs may live in a single residence. The number of dogs allowed in Fairfax is related to lot size. One or two dogs may be licensed at a residence on any lot size. Owners must have at least 7,500 square feet for three dogs, and at least 12,500 for four dogs.
Critics of such ordinances may contend that a dog owner with one loud dog may be a greater nuisance than an owner who keeps five quiet dogs in his home. Proponents of such ordinances may argue that animal hoarding (which often results in animal neglect) is possibly controlled by specific limits. “The local ordinances are generally upheld under challenge if they are deemed reasonable,” Newman says. Even if your city doesn’t have a dog quantity limitation, you may violate a general nuisance ordinance if you own many loud dogs and your neighbors complain.
General Dog Laws
Laws impact other aspects of pet ownership as well, including how you license your dog, where you can take your dog, how you vaccinate your dog, how you pick up after your dog’s waste and how you handle your dog’s body after death. For example, while owners in rural areas may still be able to bury their dogs on their property, most local ordinances now prohibit the burial of animals within city or county limits. Many cities also have laws concerning dog waste pickup. Cities may levy fines for violation, such as in Newburyport, Mass., where the fines are progressive ($50-100) based on number of violations.
Lynn Hayner, J.D., a retired attorney and historian, is a contributing editor with DOG FANCY. A lifelong owner of German Shepherd Dogs, she enjoys exploring the development of animal law in our society.
Additional Source: Robert Newman, Attorney
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