Putting a Leash on the Leash Law

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After months of dark, cold, rainy days, Portlanders have finally begun to enjoy a little sunshine and the great outdoors, something we hold dear. 

I began a recent sunny Sunday with an early morning run at Powell Butte Nature Park.  I was thrilled to run in the cool morning air, enjoying the sight of Mt. Hood, Adams, and St. Helens.  While reveling in the view on my last trip down, my sense of peace was suddenly shattered. 

I heard it before I saw it:  growls and barking headed my way.  As I searched for the approaching animal, I took quick stock of my surroundings.  I was alone, unarmed, and totally exposed in an open field. 

Down the trail a large dog came into view — off leash and seemingly without an owner, barking, growling, and running straight at me.  Then from a distance I heard a man screaming at me not to run, and at his dog to “come.”  His commands went unheeded, the dog continuing to rocket toward terrified me. 

The leash law was broken.

A few years ago, a cute Corgie named Frieda and her owner were enjoying a walk on a sunny afternoon at Mt. Tabor Park in Portland.  Frieda was on leash as usual.  Out of the park’s lush full-bloom beauty suddenly burst five large dogs, running straight at Frieda.  A young couple called the dogs, but they were non-responsive.  Attached to her leash and unable to flee, Frieda was attacked by the five dogs — none on leash.  Their owners could not pull the dogs off, and, at great risk to herself, Frieda’s owner tried to rescue her.  Finally, she dropped Frieda’s leash. 

The leash law was ineffective.

One day, a woman I used to see at the pool every other day stopped coming.  After a few weeks she returned, wheelchair-bound and accompanied by a physical therapy assistant.  She could not stand on her left leg.  As it turned out she’d been at Mt. Tabor Park and a large dog (not on leash) ran into her knee while playing wildly.  The impact knocked her down and tore her Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL).  She’d had one surgery so far and there would be more.  Meantime, she was in pain and unable to work.

The leash law was not enforced. 

Generally leash laws are simple.  More importantly, the provisions are intended to protect human beings, their best friends, and the environment by:

  1. Keeping animals out of harm’s way, from encounters with wildlife (harming the dog or the other animal), and from going  over sheer drops that exist along many natural hiking paths.
  2. Protecting people from (even accidental) run-ins, which at the very least might frighten or get them dirty, and at worst cause physical injury.
  3. Keeping animals close so their waste is easily located and collected.

Generally, the laws require dogs to be on a leash no longer than 8 feet long any time they are off their personal property, except when in a designated off-leash park. 

The costs of ignoring leash laws are high — to people, to pets, and to the environment.  For instance, many Portland urban waterways exceed state and federal bacteria standards and, it turns out, the primary culprit is pet waste.  Spending an hour in a Portland Park reveals numerous examples of pet waste seeping into the ground water.  But wait:  also seen are pet owners (in fact most), with their pets on leash carrying baggies of pet waste.  It’s not a stretch to surmise that owners with animals off leash, often appearing without bags, just don’t see where their pets do their business.

Powell Butte Nature Park has fliers for park users to give to people with off-leash pets. The fliers encourage park-users, though education, to learn the value of and then comply with leash laws.  The fliers note the damage done to open spaces and groundwater by pet waste, and explain how off-leash animals trample and ruin wildlife habitat, and even traumatize and kill wildlife.  They note the delicate state of the wild places in the parks, and beseech people to be responsible pet owners and good stewards of the parks by obeying the law. 

Every dog lover enjoys watching their dog run and play.  And there are many locales where they can.  However, supporting the health of the pets in the community – as well of the people and habitat–depends upon responsible, law-abiding citizens committed to stewardship. 

As a woman who spent 12 years as a Licensed Animal Health Technician, I, too, love animals.  As a daily park user, I am often frustrated by the frequent non-compliance and disregard for public health and safety by pet owners who opt to skip the leash.  


Toni Jacobson is a freelance writer, swim coach, and full-time college student working on her Masters in Social Work. Toni is passionate about both people and pets.