Longform

A Dispute Over Leash Laws Starts a Neighborhood Battle

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"I can't let this go by. We worked really hard for a year and a half, and in June 2011, Governor Jan Brewer signed Fabian's Law."

Fabian was the apricot poodle attacked by a loose pit bull.

Any owner of an aggressive dog whose animal leaves the property is legally responsible if another dog is attacked. Under House Bill 2137, it is a felony if a person is attacked.

Shelly Rosas, who was studying to become a lawyer, testified on behalf of the bill on March 22, 2011.

"My two boys, Braxton and Baker, love their dog Mo, just as the Andrades loved Fabian.

"Mo is not only my boys' dog, he is their brother . . . The boys put Mo to bed each night, feed him, bake him cookies, walk him, celebrate his birthday, and fill his Christmas stocking with gifts."

Rosas' description of bountiful interspecies bonding was matched by her own bountiful apprehension.

"As a mom . . . small children are most vulnerable to being attacked when a dog turns aggressive."

Her anxiety was not only about the children.

"My spleen was surgically removed several years ago and as a result, I am particularly susceptible to overwhelming sepsis and rapid death from an infection caused by bacteria commonly present in dog saliva that is harmless to a person with a spleen. Without immediate IV antibiotic treatment, I would quickly die. This thought constantly lurks in my mind when I see loose dogs roaming in my neighborhood."

Andrade alleged that hundreds of dogs die in Maricopa County every year from the sort of attack Fabian suffered.

In 2009, the record shows 580 dog-on-dog attacks reported; 900 in 2010. These numbers from the county do not tally how many dogs are out and about so it is impossible to establish context.

Fabian's Law provoked an outpouring online.

Dog owners who favored something a little larger than apricot poodles had their own opinions.

One man's vent was typical: "I am so tired of small-dog owners letting their little dogs run amok because, 'Oh, he's too little to hurt anyone.'

"Well, he's not too little to start a fight and get killed. These little monsters are never under control, and I have to stand there for several minutes trying to control my large — and therefore potentially 'dangerous' — dog while the spoiled toy dog whirls and snarls as the owner tries to grab it."

Someone identified as "Canarsie girl" responded: "A small dog may bark annoyingly at a big dog and even bite it, but it cannot kill it. Unless you have watched a beloved pet being practically ripped apart in front of your eyes, I wouldn't mention how annoying little barking dogs are to your big dogs."

You don't have to be a priest in a confessional to empathize with both views.

When you go to the pound, the vast majority of caged dogs are legendarily ornery pit bulls and quite annoying Chihuahuas with hair-trigger dispositions.

And not to put too fine a point upon it, but the problem is larger than who is eating whom.

Recently, the state felt compelled to pass legislation restricting service animals to licensed, certified dogs (and miniature horses, but that's another story). House Bill 2401 was enacted at the behest of restaurant owners. Roxane Nielsen of Prescott Brewing Company stated publicly: "I can't say we've had lions and tigers and bears, but we have had ferrets, parrots, and squirrels [brought into restaurants]."

The CEO of Wildflower Bread, Louis Basile, complained of pets eating from their humans' plates.

"It's unbelievably disturbing to folks," Basile said.

Why would your neighbor be upset that Fido is eating off your plate in a restaurant?

Because your neighbor understands that Fido likes nothing better than eating cat turds out of the sandbox.

The antipathy between dog owners and their neighbors doesn't always play out in restaurants and parks.

Jim Looper shot his neighbor's dog in Prescott in 2011 after Oden, an 8-year-old German shepherd attacked Looper's dog.

Oden's owner, Marty Caldwell, said the shooting made the neighborhood unsafe.

"If they are aggressive and come in my yard, I have to do what I have to do," Looper told the evening news.

"It is a big concern that someone will go to a firearm before going to a telephone," said Caldwell.

This is something of an understatement considering that Looper also shot Caldwell's other dog, Sage, on an earlier occasion.

Events at Los Olivos, while heated, never were deadly. In fact, even the scofflaws attempted to engage city officials in a reasonable manner.

Margaret McConnell, who lives on the north side of Los Olivos, wrote to Parks and Recreation Director Dale Larsen after the city suspended its own rule to bust off-leash dog owners:

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey