Longform

A Dispute Over Leash Laws Starts a Neighborhood Battle

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The Department of Health concluded in its report that it was necessary to "promote responsible dog ownership, including training, socializing, and neutering of dogs; increase knowledge of how to behave around a dog; support animal-control efforts; regulatory/legislative measures . . . requiring insurance, placing primary responsibility for a dog's behavior on the owner."

To buttress all this government activity, the government organized, quantified, and analyzed so that others might legislate and litigate.

Statewide from 2008 through 2012, there were 34,151 visits to emergency rooms for dog bites and 2,358 hospitalizations, according to Arizona's Department of Health.

Quite alarming!

And yet . . . And yet . . .

You must dig a little deeper with statistics. Statistics are never mere numbers; they are the royal mounted lancers meant to drive an opening through which the king can sashay without question.

The 2014 Department of Health study acknowledges that 70 percent of bites and injuries occur not in the park but rather in the home.

Why?

There is no explanation.

The Department of Health study is titled: "Who Let the Dogs Out?"

No one let the dogs out. The dogs in question are not out; they're at home. When dogs are out, dog bites barely register on the state's abacus.

In fact, the study admits that "accidents occurring in places of recreation and sport" accounted for under 3 percent.

Less than 3 percent.

In Maricopa County over that five-year period, fewer than nine people a year were hospitalized.

Nine is not nothing. Neither is nine justification for a culture of fear, intimidation, and law enforcement.

To be fair, even Ray Charles could've seen that dogs can drift from general nuisance into civil liability. Take Easter. About 17 kids showed up at my house in the company of responsible adults — except for one attorney who brought his pit bull, Blue.

Blue and Lulu like each other. They believe whatever the other one believes. They are a pair-of-deuces cult. Just what the holiday needed.

The egg hunt was accompanied by a special appearance of the Easter Bunny Zombie. (It is my experience that you cannot tell little kids at Easter about Jesus rising up from the dead and walking around, all slow and zombie-like. 'Cause then you have to explain the Romans nailing Christ to some desert mesquite. Next thing you know, the tykes are all goggle-eyed minions because crucifixion will wake your ass up. Better to confuse the nose-pickers with the Easter Bunny Zombie.)

You may already have guessed that a six-foot-tall rabbit doing the whole hopping-dead thing will rattle what little brain a pit bull has. Blue tried to eat the zombie to save the children. Lulu agreed.

It also goes without saying that this was not in the contract of the young lady who thought she was going to entertain children and instead found herself mistaken for a can of Alpo.

Before Blue knew what hit her, she found herself locked up in the lawyer's truck. Lulu agreed.

Point being: Dogs are wonderful company but capable of behaving as if they are the victims of blood vendettas that need avenging. All that said, a person old enough to carry voter-identification ought to be able to manage a canine without oversight from gendarmes enforcing the dictates of the same legislators who brought us Child Protective Services.

For God's sake, people . . .

About a dozen neighbors gather daily in the early-morning hours to walk their dogs at Los Olivos park at 28th Street, north of Indian School Road. These numbers jump to 15 or 20 in the evening.

Last year, Phoenix decided to make an example of these scofflaws. The situation was so tense that city Parks and Recreation, at the behest of police, decided to ignore city codes and directed the cops to target residents with off-leash dogs.

Let me be clear: Laws that allow you to let your dog off leash were ignored. Cops took a zero-tolerance approach and got away with it.

Dog-walking at Los Olivos is a social event among friends, many of them retired.

"People with nothing in common have learned to respect and even love each other," observed Hardaway of those in her dog circle. "In the recession of 2008, almost all of the people in Los Olivos found themselves in reduced or changed circumstances — no jobs, less income, etc. We survived by admitting that to each other and realizing we were not alone."

Her friend Pamela Maren wrote of the inherent kumbaya of off-leash dogs in her correspondence with the Parks and Recreation board.

"I live across the street from the park . . . I got my first dog because of the park . . . Dogs run around, smell the grass, socialize. Dogs that play are healthy, happy, as opposed to [getting] dragged around by leashes."

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey