Longform

A Dispute Over Leash Laws Starts a Neighborhood Battle

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Yes, Phoenix has a couple of dog parks where you are permitted to let your dog run crazy without a leash. There are six spread to hell and back across the Valley of the Sun, the third-largest urban area in the country. The closest to the Los Olivos folks is nine miles away.

I use these six parks. They have a function. But it is not conducive to the morning stroll. They are the same sort of experiment in ostracism that happens to smokers, and it is only getting worse. At the end of 2013, PetSmart announced a new initiative to use a shipping container in Phoenix as a dog park.

A shipping container!

Perhaps you dismiss the Los Olivos crowd as lazy, too self indulgent to drive to an off- leash park on the other side of town.

Perhaps you have a point; but your point is a small one.

Last year, The Atlantic magazine published an online article about social isolation in cities. Steven Faber, an assistant professor of geography at the University of Utah, said: "We might know people, but we don't necessarily know the people in our neighborhoods. We have very rich social networks, but they're dispersed all over the city, all over the country. And we depend upon the car to make face to face interactions."

The neighbors at Los Olivos choose instead to amble out of their homes at the same time every morning with coffee mugs and pets.

All their dogs are well-trained and certified from "Good Citizen" programs. This is precisely what the ordinance specifies is necessary before you can continue training your pup off leash in a city park.

In the Los Olivos group, they aren't just trained dogs; they are pacifists.

There isn't a hell-raiser in the group.

Nonetheless, last year, the police chose to make an example of these neighbors. The cops began a campaign that culminated in citations resulting in substantial fines.

Francine Hardaway decided to fight her ticket. She was, after all, doing precisely what the law called for with her dogs.

On April 25, 2013, she had her day in court.

To counter the two dogs-at-large citations she appeared with her doctor's paperwork following an MRI. She expected this would convince a trier of fact that it was dangerous for her to be tugged by dogs on a leash.

She also carried documents that showed her dogs not only were trained but also had "Good Citizen" papers.

City Court Judge Alicia M. Lawler refused to look at it.

If Hardaway was going to introduce evidence, she had to first show it to the prosecutor.

The prosecutor was not in court.

She walked to the prosecutor's office down the hall. She then waited two hours.

Hardaway had little choice. Because she had more than one dog off leash, she faced two criminal misdemeanors.

Hardaway finally was informed that if she pleaded guilty, the prosecutor would drop one charge, thereby reducing the charge to a single misdemeanor with a $295 fine.

Exhausted, she accepted.

This meant a return trip to the judge.

But the judge refused the settlement and assigned Hardaway another date in court. "The judge told me she couldn't let me plead guilty if I thought I wasn't guilty," Hardaway says.

The judge had sent her to the prosecutor to get her paperwork in evidence, not to accept a plea agreement.

But the judge's response meant another trip to court.

"I'll be in the legal system forever," lamented Hardaway.

In fact, Hardaway had to spend another two days in court, three appearances in all. Her fine eventually was reduced to $50.

This then is the dog version of the Department of Motor Vehicle experience provided courtesy of Phoenix.

"There is no such thing as a day in court for the average citizen," Hardaway complained. "As I see it, you either fall on your sword and admit your guilt or you face further incursions on your time and treasure to try to defend yourself."

For the record, Hardaway is this kind of dog person: She's cared for one poodle, three Afghans, a keeshond, a chow, two goldens, and three of unresolved origins.

DNA testing identified the various breeds within the mutts: Buppy, Chumley, and Sammy.

She recently added Bruce, also of questionable lineage.

As an adult, Hardaway has sheltered 12 dogs.

Sally Andrade's dog was killed by another dog.

"I had my poodle on leash, and we were at the end of the driveway when an aggressive dog mauled my poodle to death. I screamed. I had my dog in my arms," Andrade recalled.

She decided she had to do something.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey