SHOULD DOGS BE ALLOWED OFF LEASH IN HOAs, TOWNS AND COMMUNITIES?
I get a lot of emails about dogs. If I do a post that suggests certain types of dogs should be banned from highly dense communities because some insurers don’t insure them, sometimes people come out of the woodwork slamming that thinking.
Sorry folks, here I go again, being practical. I’m an attorney. I know the risks of accidents for which insurance may not be available. I have advised HOAs that are at risk. I read the jury verdicts. I have dealt with many a dog issue in associations over my 30 years in this business. I don’t generally get calls to ask for more lax rules on dogs; I get the calls that ask for stricter rules and more effective ways to enforce leash laws.
I want you to know though, that I have had several pet dogs in my life, two of which were companions their entire lives. Some were not well trained. They weren’t taken out for walks off leash. Two of my dogs were well trained. Angie, with me for 16 years until two years ago, would do anything I told her to do without formal training. I never would have had to have her on a leash or tie her up at all, because she was a sit, stay, heel, whatever I asked. Everyone loved her. She never got ruffled. And even though she never barked, growled, or threatened anyone she would warn me when someone was at the front door by licking my hand and her Rhodesian ridgeback (she was a lab mix) strip on her back would stand upon end. The only time she ever surprised me was when a child with oversized large dark sunglasses came running up when I was sitting with her in a park and she gave a low growl. I honestly do not know if she would have bit the child – all I had to do is say in a soft voice, “Angie, it’s ok.” And she lay back down. But the fact is, out of my consideration for others, and respect for leash laws, unless I was out in an open space area where leashes were not required, I kept her on a leash.
I saw a video recently where someone was griping about leash laws. “A dog ought to be able to be a dog,” they said. Well – whoever said dogs should not have to be on leashes when in populated areas? This particular clip was in support of an HOA that was bucking the local municipal leash laws to allow the HOA members to let their dogs run loose in the small park in the HOA. This HOA park was right next to children’s playground and another owner who was upset with this “free the dogs” attitude was also interviewed. He had a small child who liked to play on the playground. He was smaller than some of the dogs allowed to run free. His father had a legitimate concern. He felt that if they HOA was going to allow dogs off leash, they ought to fence in an area for that, and keep the dogs from running into the playground. The owner was quoted as saying, “To have a dog park without a fence is completely ridiculous, … Anything can happen. A 3 to 5-year old is face level with some of the big dogs that are around here and all it takes is a nip.”
I agree wholeheartedly! And my family also has experience with the insensitivity of a dog owner. My grandson was seriously dog-traumatized by a very large dog (great dane 90 lb “pup”), when he was a toddler. When my daughter would venture out in the morning in her townhouse complex for a run with my grandson in the stroller, she was often “accosted” with one of the residents who took this dog out to run in the common area every morning, off leash. His dog would run up to the stroller to get a face-lick – the dog owner would be yelling “it’s ok, he’s friendly,” … this person had no concept of the trauma that was created, and no consideration, even though my daughter gave him an earful more than once. Completely clueless, there was no alternative but to contact the HOA and ask them to do something.
The problem with loose dogs is the clueless owners who lack boundaries.
Some difficult legal matters come to mind for me in past years over dogs. In one, an owner who had their big dog on a leash suffered facial lacerations when dragged by his own dog – seems the Board president was out walking his two small “weiner” dogs in the common area off leash (in violation of the association rules which were strictly enforced against others). The big dog simply wanted to join in the play, dragging the owner off their feet and onto the pavement.
I recently got a call from someone who wanted me to represent them in a controversial case with his association over a leash law. The owner described a dog that for several reasons he felt did not need to be on a leash. The claim was that the HOA was acting unreasonably and was exaggerating the dog “off leash” incidents, and imposing unreasonable fines.
The problem is that the person who contacted me was clearly violating the rules. It is not uncommon for persons who violate the rules for one or another excuse claim the board is acting unreasonably. I’m not saying it is never true, but if an owner asks me for representation and they are clearly in violation of association rules, I would more than likely advise them to follow the rules. There are of course cases where there are extenuating circumstances. I would have no qualms writing to a board about breach of duty and inconsistent enforcement if any of the board members are violating the rules while at the same time enforcing them against others, by fines or otherwise. Because guess what … this is still breaking the rules. Board members do not get special dispensation.
So, I expect … and invite … comments