A Dispute Over Phoenix Leash Laws Starts a Neighborhood Battle | Valley Fever | Phoenix | Phoenix New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Phoenix, Arizona

A Dispute Over Phoenix Leash Laws Starts a Neighborhood Battle

It was not as though Lulu lacked manners. However! It was Cinco de Mayo, and sometimes a girl just . . . loses all self-control. When the front door swung open, Lulu took one look at the chaos inside the home and threw herself into the party. She went straight...
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It was not as though Lulu lacked manners.


It was Cinco de Mayo, and sometimes a girl just . . . loses all self-control.

When the front door swung open, Lulu took one look at the chaos inside the home and threw herself into the party. She went straight to the couch and knocked a beer out of the hand of an attorney sitting there. Lulu then drank in the scene.

See Also: Inside the Gilbert Dog-Boarding Facility Where 20 Dogs Died

She scanned the 20 or so dogs in the living room.

Surrounded by her own kind, and inside a home, she was free and pleased with her canine self. Lulu looked back at the man who'd let her off her leash.

"This is who I am . . . Do you see me, finally?"

I'd seen that look before. It was the look Maria Conchita Alonso, all ratted hair and gang makeup, gave Sean Penn's cop in the movie Colors.

How you like me now . . . bay-bee?

The party was for dog owners who let their mutts off leash at Los Olivos, a city park. These dog walkers had been targeted by police for allowing their pets to chase a ball, to catch a Frisbee, to, you know, run with the big dogs.

So, a year ago, they gathered to commiserate on Cinco de Mayo. The host, Francine Hardaway, invited everyone to bring their dogs to her home.

She threw the party again, last month.

At last year's party, everyone was up in arms about city cops taking the time and money to ticket people who let their dogs run loose in city parks.

These folks aren't layabouts lingering near the basketball hoop that hasn't had a net in years. These are the people drawn in the architectural renderings of parks, the people who turn a greenscape into a neighborhood.

This year, the Los Olivos people are not just resigned; they are demoralized.

From 2010 to 2013, the city issued 2,489 tickets to owners of off-leash dogs, according to the Phoenix Court Management System.

The Phoenix Police Department's Desert Horizon police station was a whirlwind of enforcement last year.

Officers on bikes, squad cars, and unmarked vehicles hit three parks 13 times between April and July, according to a citizen survey. Both uniformed officers and undercover cops participated in raids using as many as six squad cars or bikes per incident, says a nearby resident who kept a tally with her neighbors. (When asked, the police department said it had no records available.)

The police sweeps originating in the Desert Horizon precinct involved Sand Piper, Jack Rabbit, Crossed Arrows, and Sereno parks in North Phoenix.

If you have a dog, and you let the dog run around while you walk in the local park, your neighbors are going to call the cops — and the cops are going to take action.

Why, you might ask?

Over a 20-year period, one study documented that 16 people a year die in dog attacks across the entire country. This puts the risk at somewhat higher than the number of Americans lost to the Ebola virus annually. Yet these scant numbers have inspired legislators, law enforcement, do-gooders, the readers of newspapers, school crossing guards, and stay-at-home mothers to pen strongly worded letters to the editor.

You know something's afoot when lawyers sniff a billable hour.

Attorneys now offer services to victims of bites. The issue of loose dogs is not merely part of a civil discourse; it is a part of some law firms' cash flow.

In Arizona, you easily can find representation. Take, for example, lawyers like Larry H. Parker or Mark Breyer.

Parker's website says 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs every year and that 800,000 seek medical attention (meaning 3.9 million manage to live full and meaningful lives without a nurse's intervention).

Parker goes on to inform victims what must be done promptly:

"Seek immediate medical attention; call the police and animal control; insist the police make a report; insist the dog be quarantined; have the dog examined for rabies; write down a description of the dog, especially if the dog cannot be located or captured; write down the name and address of the dog's owner; write down the name and address of witnesses; take pictures and notes of your injuries; preserve clothing and other evidence carefully."

Dance the hokey-pokey?

Attorney Breyer notes that insurance policies have limits of up to $100,000 per incident, but the rub, he says, is that dog owners often are not willing to part with the money.

We do know that the Maricopa County's Animal Care and Control said 4,878 bites were reported last year. No information on funeral services as we went to press.

The Arizona Department of Health marshaled data to promote 12 safety steps when confronted with a dog. Having abandoned efforts to get all of us under our school desks in case of a nuclear attack, dogs are a reasonable threat replacement.

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.


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."

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.

"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:

"Parks and Recreation's own records contain no complaints in the last two years about dogs with owners attacking other dogs or persons in the park."

Correspondence from residents of the Los Olivos neighborhood to Parks and Rec administrators dates from 2011. One thread running through the letters is that all this uproar is the result of one couple: Carolyn Smith and her ex-cop boyfriend, Dennis Lacki.

Attorney Tracey Westerhausen, an off-leash violator at Los Olivos, made this point in her letter.

"Until a pair of newcomers showed up in December, there wasn't any problem between off-leashers and leashers in the park. On the very first day, this couple was spotted in the park, she was on the phone incessantly, making sure anyone nearby knew that she was talking to the authorities . . .

"The woman, without provocation, shouted at a group of women, 'get your queer activity away from me.' Much, much worse: Another dog walker, who happens to be a Phoenix fireman, and who did not have his dog with him that day, approached the man, also to introduce himself and try to calm things down. The man threatened him with a gun. The police who responded did nothing."

(It is more accurate to say that the gun was flashed by Lacki. It was not drawn.)

The upshot of the conflict was the "Powell" memo, on behalf of James Burke, acting director of the Parks and Recreation board.

Because of "ongoing conflict prompting repeated complaint calls to Phoenix Police, Maricopa County Animal Control, Parks and Recreation Department and City Council staff . . ."

The bureaucrats yielded to police requests to "prohibit unrestrained dogs in Los Olivos Park to streamline the enforcement process and further emphasize the expectation of compliance."

Parks and Recreation staff recommended "temporary prohibition of unrestrained dogs" for six months.

Three and a half years later, the temporary ban still is in effect.

Let's be clear: The off-leash dog walkers argue that they were obeying the law. Their certified dogs were off leash for further training, which is exactly what the statute permits.

Perhaps now would be a good time to meet Willard Bailey, the man who created the law.

Bailey is a dog trainer who crafted the current laws for off-leash activity in Phoenix.

He doesn't much care for you or your dog.

Or as he puts it: "If you train outdoors in a city park or any other large area of inviting grass, you know the scenario. The person with her dog off leash may be 200 yards away — if you're lucky — but you know . . . that dog is going to break away and come charging into your training setup . . . pausing only long enough to pee on your equipment. And 100 yards behind, here comes the woman, lumbering along shouting, "He's friendly! He's friendly!

"That's swell, lady, but when Adonis gets here, my dog is going to excise his Adam's apple."

His vocabulary of lethal mayhem is not accidental. He describes going to PetSmart the same way.

Bailey arrived at PetSmart to introduce his mutt to training. He arrived with two signs. Each read: "Please don't pet me. I'm practicing obedience."

Wrote Bailey in his blog, "Not that that will stop Brunhilde from lumbering over so that 'Tootsie,' her 100-pound Rottweiler, can meet my puppy and thereby risk excision of her dog's Adam's apple."

This is Bailey's worldview: Some overweight and overwrought woman has lost control of her sissies. You can tell they're sissies because they are named Adonis and Tootsie.

And the sissies are about to be killed by his well-trained Wehrmacht hound: 'Heel, Barbarossa, heel!'

Bailey may be an authoritarian misogynist, but if so, he is one that knows how to work City Hall.

In 2004, he got a call from a friend in the police department.

Was Bailey aware that the city had passed an emergency measure requiring all dogs to be on leash in all city parks at all times?

How could Bailey earn a living training Adonis and Tootsie if they had to be on leashes?

Bailey consulted a friend, Billie Rosen, whom he describes on his blog as the "godmother of agility in our state." (This is a reference to dog agility, not Gabby Douglas.)

Rosen also is a former prosecutor with the Arizona Attorney General's Office who was so good at nailing Medicare fraud, Hell's Angels, the Mexican Mafia, and chop-shop sleazes that someone tried to kill her.

She told Bailey: "Willard, get the law changed."

And to Bailey's credit, he did get it changed. He worked with park rangers as well as the Parks and Rec board. He lobbied, he researched, he packed meetings.

It took him more than three years, but with Rosen on his steering committee, Bailey changed the law.

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.

"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.

Assign a cat to every park to restore order, safety, and God-fearing.

I kid you not.

In my home, Miss Lulu, a Catahoula hound with a side of pork 'n' beans, is kept in fighting trim by my Abyssinian cat, Abu.

Every morning, before coffee's made, the dog reports in to Abu. They review the cat's thoughts for how the day will play out. Woe to the puppy who deviates from the plan.

When my girlfriend first met Abu, she watched him discipline a pack of neighborhood dogs and christened the cat Johnny Bad Ass.

Abu is available for consultation.

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