xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement

Legal Matters: Dog owners responsible for keeping their animals under control at all times

Dogs don’t always understand where their family’s property lines end and someone else’s begin. It would not matter if humans lived communally and the land belonged to everyone and no one. But where land and dogs are privately owned, it matters.

Private property emerged as a concept in England during the 12th century, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. “Because property law deals with the allocation, use and transfer of wealth and objects of wealth, it must reflect the economy, family structure, and politics of the society in which it is found,” according to the encyclopedia.          

Advertisement

Nine centuries later, legal concepts we inherited from England mean that my dog has no right to trespass on your yard. Nor does he have the right to chase you down a public street.

If he does so, I may be responsible for any damage or injury he causes, and I will be violating local dog control ordinances. I may be ordered to keep the dog confined on my property. But you do not have rights to trespass on my land or harm my dog. 

Situations ranging from free-roaming dogs to owners who do not give their pets proper care have prompted county governments to adopt ordinances both to protect dogs and prevent them from violating neighbors’ property rights.

Who cares? We do, where conflict ensues.  

On one Westminster area residential street, there are potential — and actual — conflicts between fitness walkers and a dog owner whose pets’ behavior appears menacing or threatening to passersby. The dogs at the center of the issue are frequently unleashed in their owner’s front yard.  

When an exercise walker approaches, the dogs dash to the edge of the property, barking. The owner has stated they are restrained by an invisible fence. But an informal survey failed to identify any local dog walkers who are willing to risk taking their pets past the house in question. Two exercise walkers also said they avoid the street because of the dogs’ behavior.

One walker reported she was attacked by a dog on the street in front of the house in question two years ago. She was unable to say with certainty whether the dogs there now include the attacker.

Can county ordinances assure safety on the streets?   

Advertisement

Laws guarantee public access to streets, and a county ordinance provides that dog owners are responsible for their pets’ behavior. But absent a reported violation, enforcement officials lack authority to act against a pet owner.

Animal control laws include a provision that states, “The owner of a dog shall keep the dog under restraint or effective control at all times.”

The county ordinance allows invisible fencing, but there is a caveat.  

“In the case of a dog, if the owner utilizes an ‘invisible fence’ to restrain a dog it may only be used if it consistently and effectively restrains the dog and is appropriate to be used for the dog in question. No aggressive dog may be restrained behind an ‘invisible fence’,” the ordinance states.

The ordinance does not define “aggressive,” but authorizes the animal control authority to determine whether a dog is, “a public nuisance or a vicious animal.”

Donna Engle is a retired Westminster attorney. Her Legal Matters column, which provides legal information but not legal advice, appears on the second and fourth Sunday each month in Life & Times. Email her at denglelaw@gmail.com.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement