More on Dogs and the Law

Irresponsible owners and animal rights activists propel a plethora of restrictive dog laws


These days, dog owners face serious anti-dog sentiment from two major sources -- neighbors who resent dealing with pets that act like criminals and animal rights activists who think that breeders and owners of purebred dogs are partly or wholly at fault for the animals that are killed in animal shelters.

Neighbors have a point. No pet owner should allow his dog (or cat) to infringe on the neighbors' property or person. The days are long gone when Mr. Jones can open the door and let Rover out, unaccompanied, unconfined, to do his business. Population density in suburban and urban communities preclude allowing a pet to run free, no matter how much Mr. Jones would like to envision his pet unfettered, no matter how cruel Mr. Smith thinks it is to keep Wolf confined.

No, these are the days of Canine Good Citizens, not absolute freedom. In order to prevent the passage of dozens of niggling laws affecting the number of dogs one can own, the distance a dog house must be from the property line, the breed of dog one can own, or even the type of leash one can use to walk his pet, owners must take the initiative and be responsible. In order to prevent or overturn regulations limiting pet ownership in apartment complexes, condominium developments, and planned communities, owners must prove they are reliable and that their pets will be assets to the neighborhood.

Confrontation is out; cooperation is in.

Dog owners should, right now, determine to do the following:

Dog owners should also take their pets to the veterinarian for an annual checkup, groom their dogs as often as indicated by coat texture and type, and provide a nutritious diet and plenty of fresh water.

State laws

Ohio and Kentucky laws are inadequate to protect dogs from neglect. Each state includes a requirement for food, water, and shelter and prohibits beating the animal, but there are no provisions for inspecting pet stores, animal shelters, commercial breeders, boarding kennels, training schools, or grooming shops. There is not even a definition of breeder, either commercial or private.

State laws include a requirement that dogs be licensed (but not cats) and under control. Violation of these laws result in impoundment of the dog and issuance of a citation for each infraction. In Hamilton County, the cost of redeeming an unlicensed dog arrested for running loose can total $130 for two citations, $20 for the license ($10 plus $10 late fee), and a daily boarding fee. (Cost of adopting a dog from this shelter is $60, including the license. Rather than claim his dog and thus admit he is responsible for the infractions of law, an owner could wait until his dog is cleared for adoption and then adopt it for far less than half the cost of impoundment.)

Many townships, cities, and villages have imposed their own pet ownership rules. Unfortunately, few if any of these regulations protect the dogs, although they do limit the choices of dog owners.

Many communities have laws that limit the number of dogs a resident can own, list certain dogs as inherently vicious, regulate the type or height of fence that can be erected, or outlaw retractable leashes. The lawmakers frequently react to a noisy citizen or two who have been inconvenienced by an irresponsible pet neighbor or who have been attacked or bitten by a particular breed of dog. They forget or don't realize that

Preserving rights by acting responsibly

It is possible to get good laws passed to protect animals and legitimate animal-related activities, but it takes cooperation and hard work.

Dog owners can band together to show local governments that they are reasonable and responsible. Ohio Valley Dog Owners Inc., a coalition of dog clubs, pet owners, and dog-related businesses and organizations in greater Cincinnati,OH has worked with the Hamilton County Planning and Zoning Commission to formulate a zoning law that allows responsible pet owners to keep as many pets as they want as long as they are not a nuisance, to erect chain link runs on their properties with only a 20-foot setback, and to breed occasional litters of puppies in residential areas.

OVDO also successfully opposed pet limits in two suburban Cincinnati, OH communities.

Dog fanciers in San Francisco, CA helped the San Francisco SPCA implement a plan for reducing animal deaths that depends on evaluation of all animals that enter the facility, a large volunteer corps to help with training and adopting the dogs, a thorough adoption screening process, frequent seminars on pet care, and a medical program that repairs and treats animals with diseases or injuries that are treatable.

Faced with a law that would give extensive police powers to animal control officers, dog fanciers in the State Of Washington banded together to guide a better law through their state legislature. This law removes the police powers and protects animal activities such as dog shows, agricultural fairs, and research laboratories.

Fanciers and other animal welfare proponents worked together in Pennsylvania to design a consumer protection "puppy lemon law" that is pending in the state legislature.

Anti-dog laws

Because they are not well organized, pet owners and purebred fanciers are frequently too late to stop the radical proposals that limit their rights. Thus there is a plethora of laws that make it more costly and difficult to breed and own dogs.

The first breeding limit law was passed in San Mateo County in California's San Francisco Bay area, proposed by the Peninsula Humane Society as the solution to dog and cat euthanasia in the county. The original law called for a breeding ban, but the final version substituted large license fees for unsterilized animals and a fee for each planned breeding. Thus a breeder who produces one litter a year but owns an intact male and three intact females pays $25 for each intact dog per year and $25 to do a breeding.

King County, Washington, near Seattle, has a more restrictive law. Its license for intact dogs is $55 per year. Both King County and San Mateo laws give police powers to dog wardens and allow confiscation of pets under certain circumstances that have nothing to do with cruelty or neglect.

Neither of these laws has lived up to its promise; both slowed long-established downward trends in dog deaths and the San Mateo ordinance resulted in an increase in euthanasias in the unincorporated county.

Breeding law proposals have also included the following:

Other proposed legislation affecting dog ownership includes taxes on veterinary services and pet food, and bans on retractable leashes, carrying dogs in pickup truck beds, and walking dogs in public parks, and special licenses for particular breeds.

Norma Bennett Woolf

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