July 18, 2013 | Volume 43, Number 28

Police stir leash law discussion

Should the Haines Borough require dog owners to leash their four-legged friends while out in public?

Haines Borough police are posing that question to residents following a discussion with Haines Animal Rescue Kennel (HARK) director Steve Vick about whether the town needs a leash law.

Under current law, dog owners must keep their canines under control via leash, chain, fence or cage. They can also be secured in a building or vehicle or under “competent voice control.”

“Competent voice control,” according to borough code, means “controlling a dog’s movements within 20 feet of and in line of sight to the owner or keeper and in such a manner that the dog exhibits no behavior that would be perceived as threatening to the average person.”

Interim police chief Simon Ford, who supports a leash law, said the voice control clause, even though it is defined, leaves too much room for interpretation.

“That’s really subjective and hard to enforce. If you’re walking with your dog 20 feet away from you but you can still shout at it and get it to come to you, some people say that’s under your control. Some people say that’s not,” Ford said.

“The current language that says the dog has to be under the owner’s control is not really working, so maybe we need to do something more,” he added.

HARK director Vick said the non-profit organization “rarely” receives calls about leash laws, as most complaints involve dogs whose owners are nowhere nearby and have let the animals outside to roam free. “If a dog is off-leash and with their owner, we’ve never had a problem with that in the sense that that dog isn’t causing a problem,” he said.

The roaming issue is hard to enforce, since the dogs are often gone by the time HARK responds. “I don’t think leash laws would solve any of the problems we have with dogs right now,” Vick said.

Resident Mike Case, who walks his dog around Deishu Drive every morning without a leash, said he thinks the present law is sufficient. Case said he understands some people can’t control their dogs by voice, and those owners should make the responsible decision to keep their dogs on a leash.

Recent discussion led police to take the issue to Facebook, where a post about a possible leash law generated nearly 40 comments. Many people who chimed in seemed to support the potential change.

“I personally think there should be a leash law,” said resident Stacie Turner. “I have had dogs my whole life and I know how easy it is to lose control of them. If you have them on a leash, the chances of them taking off and biting a kid or attacking another dog are greatly reduced.”

Others, however, said the borough and police would be overstepping their bounds by implementing a leash law. Resident Jacqueline Haddock-Swift said enacting a law would punish responsible dog owners who exercise adequate verbal control over their pets.

“There are a ton of dog owners that have control of their dogs, and I don’t feel they should be punished because of the few that don’t. It shouldn’t be a law,” Haddock-Swift said.

Ford suggested a possible compromise, like designating areas where owners could let their dogs off-leash to play and exercise. Ideas included the Lily Lake trail, the pipeline trail and the beach at the old Army tank farm on Lutak Road.

“I could support a leash law in town,” said resident Randa Szymanski, “but they should be allowed off-leash on the beaches and trails. And of course off-leash on their owner’s property.”

Ford said he is only trying to generate discussion by posing the question, as he doesn’t feel it’s the role of the police chief to lobby for any particular legislation.

“The way government is supposed to work is the people we elected make those decisions, then you pay me to enforce what they decide. I’m not trying to lobby one way or the other.”