Unleashed Dogs on Public Streets
I have to state right at the outset that I am totally against dogs being on public streets (or in most other public places come to that) if they are not on a leash. The first reason for my adopting that position is that it’s the law in most towns and cities in the U.S. and in many other countries in the world, too. Secondly, if a dog is on a leash, then it’s under control. Thirdly, whilst my dog or yours might be friendly, does everyone else know that? Also, I don’t like dogs jumping up at me (even though I have a dog of my own) and I work on the basis that other people don’t like it either. Finally, any dog not on a leash could attack other animals such as livestock, can mess where it wants and can wander into the road, possibly causing a traffic accident. Fundamentally, my opinion is that any dog – large, small, friendly or not – should be kept under control by being on a leash in any public place unless it is a designated dog exercise area.
Yes, it really is the law in virtually every community in the U.S. that a dog should be under control while in a public place, which means it should be on a leash. From my travels overseas, I believe the laws are much the same in most developed countries. However well trained your little (or not so little) Fido may be, there’s always the chance that it will – maybe totally out of character – bite a child or adult, for example if frightened by a sudden approach or a gesture that seems threatening. If you are conscientious enough to have taken out pet insurance including public liability insurance, you might find that the insurance company would wriggle out of a claim in the event that your dog was not on a leash (i.e. it was “not under control”).
If you have your dog on a leash and therefore under control, you can not only stop it getting too close to other people or dogs, but you can keep it out of the sort of trouble that dogs unwittingly and too often get into. They eat things they’re not supposed to (like rotten food, a dead creature, or even indigestible things like golf balls), they can stray into hazards like broken glass, or even – if you’re walking in the woods for example – encounter wild animals that may be carrying disease.
Letting your dog off the leash may be fine if you’re absolutely certain you are miles from other people or animals, especially farm livestock like sheep. Can you be sure there are no farm animals over that next wall or over the brow of the hill? I believe a farmer is perfectly within his rights to shoot and kill any dog threatening his sheep, so you’d be risking your dog’s life too if you’re irresponsible in that regard. I read just the other day of a dog contracting a life-threatening disease from a wild rabbit it had killed while roaming free, no doubt costing the owner considerable heartache as well as incurring veterinary fees to bring it back to full health.
Then there is the all too frequently encountered dog’s mess on our city sidewalks. Not necessarily all from unleashed dogs of course. Many dog owners lack the basic decency to “pick up” after their dog, or even to “persuade” it off the sidewalk and into the street, whether it’s on a leash or not. Treading in dog’s mess is an unpleasant experience in itself, but it is also a health hazard, particularly to small children who I believe can suffer blindness after touching dog’s mess in certain instances. Dogs walking on city or suburban streets are also a real potential traffic hazard. If they are not on a leash, any unexpected event can cause them to dash suddenly across the street; it may happen if they flush a cat from under a parked car, see another dog on the other side, or maybe if they are themselves frightened by a snarling dog throwing itself against the inside of a house gate or fence as they pass by. Such an incident can all too easily cause a road traffic accident that could in turn cause human injury or fatality, even if the dog itself remains unscathed.
In conclusion, there is almost nothing that can justify allowing a dog to walk unleashed, apart from the often mentioned perception that a dog is “happier” if allowed to walk without being restrained. That of course could be masking laziness on the part of the owner who just can’t be bothered to keep their pet under proper control. Walking a dog on a leash is safer for other people and animals, safer for the dog itself, and demonstrates a sense of civic responsibility. It can also save the owner the potential costs of third party insurance claims that might not be covered even if they do have public liability insurance.