A Dispute Over Leash Laws Starts a Neighborhood Battle

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"I am very happy that enforcement has begun before the problems at Los Olivos escalate . . . You know that I fear for Carolyn's safety when she walks the dogs. I am happy that you are now issuing citations. When these morons find out they have to go to court and be fined, maybe they will stop letting their dogs run free," wrote Lacki on April 12.

Lacki went on to mention an ominous Hispanic male, a boxer, a retired gentleman in his late 70s who has trouble walking.

"As you know," Lacki said, "I will protect Carolyn if I must. I don't want it to come to that."

Officer Carro responded the very next morning.

"This is a very volatile situation, and it is as advisable this time around, as it was last time, that you do not engage or confront anyone in reference to this issue . . . This is a two-way street, and there are always two sides to every story . . . I am giving fair warning; we will be watching this park with marked and unmarked police personnel . . . The last thing I want to happen is you are arrested because you put yourself in a situation that could have been avoided . . . Please abide by the law and, if necessary, walk away."

Okay. Timeout.

Do we not have a single mature adult in this doggie drama?

Other cities have set aside parts of parks for off-leash dogs. Some cities dedicate specific hours when dogs can be off leash.

"That would be a big, big shift in what we would allow," said Wheat of Parks and Recreation.

Yet cities as varied as Salt Lake City and New York manage it.

Mike and Connie Goers decided they wanted to do something more than complain after a May 23, 2013, citation given when cops ticketed them for having their dog, Mitch, off leash.

They organized other dog owners and attended an endless series of city meetings.

In the beginning, city bureaucrats cited a nonexistent state law to explain why they could not dedicate certain hours to off-leash activity.

Hours could not be set aside, fences could not be built.

"There are thousands of dogs who had tennis balls thrown to them this morning" Mike says. "Can we codify it so that it's not underground? Our sister city [in] Alberta, Canada, has 3,000 acres dedicated to off-leash. Our nearest dog park is seven miles away. We are not getting in a car and driving with the dog every day."

Mike and Connie worked countless hours on a pilot program at Jackrabbit Park.

Each public meeting was attended by dog trainers who predicted mayhem if any time was set aside for off-leash recreation. Dog trainers sold fear like discounted kibble. An article was circulated from the morning newspaper that recounted a city worker's attack by a pit bull. The incident was six years old and did not occur in a city park. But the musk of fear hovered over the discussions.

In the face of a nine-month stall by the city, the Goers did get one piece of good news: The police sweeps would stop.

But bad news followed.

A vote to consider a pilot off-leash program at Jackrabbit Park was held February 27, 2014.

The board voted 5-0 to kill the idea.

You never see a dog on a leash in anyone's home. You just don't.

For many dog owners, a hound gamboling through a park is a communion among nature, canine, and human.

Will an unleashed dog occasionally cause a problem? Of course, it will.

So will your kid.

In Phoenix, bureaucrats and politicians have insisted upon leashes.

But thousands — maybe tens of thousands — think it less a leash and more a noose.

To avoid dog bites, we have invoked police officers, park rangers, prosecutors, judges, defense lawyers, politicians, and bureaucrats.

For the sake of order and a false sense of safety, the city created a division between the wild and the walked.

It's almost embarrassing to spend this many words on the family mutt. (And if you're still reading this, you might consider some volunteer work at a homeless shelter to help fill your day.)

A lot of time has been wasted worrying about regulating dogs when what the issue really needs isn't a city code but rather a bit of thinking outside the box.

This "problem" begs for a cat.

You've all seen the video — hell, it made the evening news — of some screw-loose dog attacking a young tyke on his first bicycle. Next thing you know, the family cat races into the picture and goes all Floyd Mayweather on the dog, who takes off like Custer's last scout.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey