Longform

A Dispute Over Leash Laws Starts a Neighborhood Battle

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The new regulations, however, clearly benefit dog trainers, not dog owners. Your dog cannot just wander; your dog must be in training!

Dogs must be trained and certified as good citizens before you legally can let them off leash in a city park.

Park rangers will enforce this law. When a ranger comes upon you and your hound, here is what Bailey explained must happen.

The ranger will ask you to put your dog through various commands.

After these prompts, Bailey says, the ranger has one last question.

"The ranger will then ask what nationally recognized dog sport they are training for," Bailey notes. "The examples listed in the Phoenix dog ordinance are conformation, obedience, rally obedience, freestyle obedience, agility, hunting or field trials, tracking, herding, service-animal training, flyball, scent hurdling, lure coursing, and earthdog.

"Just playing ball or throwing a Frisbee won't hack it," Bailey says.

As someone who noodles around with the thought of one day seeing the Westminster Dog Show in person to confirm the viewpoint expressed by Best in Show, it makes my teeth throb to consider Bailey's list of dog sports.

Scent hurdling?

And the staff of park rangers who are expected to conduct this byzantine cross-examination is dwindling from a high of 71 in fiscal '08-'09 to the current crew of 56.

Nonetheless, those in charge do not see nuances, complications, stressed employees, or legal edicts worthy of a Shiite mullah dictating to a devout Sunni.

Parks and Rec deputy directors Ken Vonderscher and Ann Wheat, took part of an afternoon to explain their views on the enforcement of Bailey's dog trainer code as the strictures that all must abide.

Both were conversant with the situation at Los Olivos. They knew full well that dog walkers were in compliance with Bailey's dictums; the pair from Parks and Rec were not interested. At all.

They were happy to oblige the police department's request to ignore the law and cite anyone whose dog was off leash. The pretense of a dog in training was out the window.

"There was enough of an issue. They were bringing weapons to the park," Vonderscher said. "This was done as a cooling-off period."

This is a twisting of the tale since it was not the off-leash dog walkers who were flashing a revolver but rather a retired cop chesting for his girlfriend.

And when will this cooling-off period end?

"It might not because it worked so well," replied the blasé Vonderscher. "Dog are welcome; they need to be leashed. Most people do obey."

"We keep hearing there is only one person complaining," Wheat added. "That is absolutely not true. Los Olivos had multiple complaints. The neighbors to the south, north, and east made complaints."

It is probably true that it was not just one woman who complained.

But it is also true that one woman, Carolyn Smith, and her ex-cop boyfriend, Dennis Lacki, were at the center of the dispute.

Last spring, Smith arrived at Los Olivos and shared the park with those who traditionally let their dogs off leash. She was not happy.

"They [the Los Olivos dog walkers] try to intimidate you with their dogs . . . send dogs off leash to come over and intimidate me," Smith maintained in an early-morning interview at the park. "They think they own the whole park. The law doesn't apply to them."

She became more agitated as she spoke. Her two leashed small dogs sat and watched Mommy vent.

"These people think they are hot shit. It's wrong to disobey the law, whether you like it or not. They are a pack of wolves going around with dogs to intimidate . . . They called me a miserable person . . . They should pay the fines."

Shortly after the interview, Smith contacted Sergeant Amy Breitzman with the PPD's Community Programs Squad as well as Officer Ben Carro. Smith copied her boyfriend, ex-cop Lacki.

The sergeant tried to call but missed Smith who then sent a follow-up e-mail.

"Today at the park, a reporter for the New Times was there. Someone who had gotten a citation for having their dog off leash has spoken with him. The reporter's name is Michael Lacey."

Smith supplied my contact information to the sergeant.

"About 15 people with their dogs were talking to him, and at first, I thought it was a plainclothes policeman, until he stopped me. I gave him my story, and I also told him it wasn't right that people use the media to put a slant on things. Anyway, I don't think the day at the park today was much fun."

From previous correspondence with the police, it is obvious Smith and Lacki viewed the situation at Los Olivos as threatening.

Ten days before Smith's interview in the park, her boyfriend wrote Officer Carro.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey