Leash Laws and Why We Love Them
Take a look through the house of almost any dog owner and you will find a leash hanging somewhere. Whether it be the old fashioned woven kind, the retractable kind, the gentle leader (a type of leash that uses a head-harness), or old worn leather, leashes are one of the few must-have items for any dog owner. They are, in a sense, one of the iconic symbols of the pet owner. Then why, you might ask, are leashes so controversial at times?
Many pet owners argue that their pets deserve to run free. They argue that they have trained their dog to respond to voice commands well enough that a leash is unnecessary. These owners cite their pet’s lack of aggression towards people, and other dogs as well as level-headedness as reasons that their pets do not need to be on leashes. Such people see leashes as unnecessary restrictions for their pets and sometimes will openly refuse to use them. This, unfortunately, is where problems have opportunity to arise.
Dogs are very sensitive creatures. Different breeds (and mixes of breeds) have different stimuli that their breed “instincts” react to. A scent-hound such as the Fox-hound, Beagle, or Rhodesian Ridgeback, no matter how well trained, may very well take off after a strange scent. The Grayhound, Saluki, Irish Wolfhound, and other sight-hounds are visually stimulated, making any jogger, squirrel, or vehicle a tempting target. Likewise, herding dogs such as the Border Collie, Old English Sheepdog, Australian Cattle Dog will be tempted to herd and guard inanimate objects, even if they are not directed to do so by their owner. Stimuli that people would not be bothered by, such as cars, playing children, or wild animals, may be things that dogs find hard to ignore. It is not that the dog means to disobey; it is that it is performing the function for which it was bred. And in the case of mixed heritage, you never know what primal response might kick in when out and about with your Heinz 57.
The problem is that these instinctive reactions to stimuli can cause trouble for dogs. An off-leash dog which goes chasing after a car has the potential to not only be struck when it runs into the street, but can also cause accidents and other incidents which can endanger drivers and pedestrians. A dog that chases after a child, even if it is only playing, can cause serious injury depending on its size and the size of the child. This is to say nothing of the fact that being chased by a strange dog is generally a terrifying situation regardless of age. A misunderstanding in which a playful dog is mistaken to be aggressive, or a playful game of chase that is misidentified as an attack, can result in a perfectly good dog being taken away from its owner, or injured from bystanders trying to protect the person.
Dogs that are aggressive or tend to become very fearful or stressed need to be leashed in order to avoid unpleasant encounters both with people and other dogs. A child who hasn’t been taught to properly approach a dog can easily move to greet an off-leash pet and sustain serious injuries. An aggressive dog on a leash can be kept from situations that might become dangerous both for the animal and for other people. Just because one dog may not be aggressive does not mean that any dog they encounter will not be aggressive towards them. An off-leash friendly dog freely approaching another dog always has the potential to be a problem, regardless of whether the other dog is guarding its home or just walking with its owner. If the other dog is fearful, aggressive, or stressed, a fight may break out, and without a leash on both dogs, separating them may be a challenge (as it will involve physically grabbing a dog that is involved in a fight). Even a non-aggressive dog may fight if attacked and a dog in the midst of a fight may not be able to tell the difference between its enemy and its owner moving in to break up the fight.
Lastly, leashing dogs helps with the overpopulation problem. Dogs, no matter how domesticated they may be, are animals and thus have a inherent drive to reproduce. A male dog can scent a female in heat from great distance and will traverse any obstacle to reach her. An intact dog that roams free is a dog that has the potential to become pregnant or else cause another dog to become pregnant. With overpopulation already a problem, allowing dogs to roam off leash is doing nothing but adding fuel to the fire.
It is for reasons such as this that leash laws exist. For example, the City of Charleston requires that all animals be leashed “whenever they are within the public right-of-way or on public property.” Such places include parks, sidewalks, plazas and other places that are generally open to the public. Granted, there are designated dog parks in Charleston that allow animals to interact and play while off leash, but most of these are fenced in so that dogs cannot interact with people or animals who are outside the park. Both fenced, and non-fenced off leash parks and recreational areas are clearly marked, so those who do not wish to interact with off-leash dogs may choose other places for their outdoor activities. The city of North Charleston’s web site contains a list of public spaces that require dogs to be on leashes and those that do not.
Charleston County also has laws regulating dogs who visit their beaches. While dogs are welcome year-round on Isle of Palms, they are only allowed to free-roam between 5 and 8 am. However, owners are expected to be able to control their pet via voice commands and to carry a leash with them at all times. On Sullivan’s Island, dogs are not allowed between the hours of 10 am and 6 pm. They are allowed on the beach with a leash from 6 pm to 5 am and off the leash from 5 am to 10 am (although the owner must be nearby). Folly Beach has the strictest rules regarding dogs. Dogs are prohibited between 10 am and 6 pm, and must be on a leash at all other times. A new off leash club , F. I. D. O., appealed to the city and has been granted some off leash time on the beach. Stay tuned for a future article on this group and how to get involved.
Many cities and states enforce their own leash laws to varying degrees. Some dog owners cite that their city is lax in enforcing such rules, so they confidently “break them” as they see fit. Other communities report that officers seem to be constantly looking for dog owners who are not abiding by the law and impose hefty fines. Though it can be sometimes disappointing to have to “leash-up,” one must remember these laws are not in place in order to restrict dogs’ freedom, or to insinuate that their owners do not have the degree of control that they believe they have over their pets. The only function of these laws is to ensure the safety of all citizens, both human and canine.
LCDM believes it’s best to keep the off-leash activity in designated off-leash dog parks, or during the off-leash hours of the beach. Bark back to us with your thoughts on this “ruff” issue.