NCCo Requires Leashes For Dogs

Tighter ordinance will resolve disputes, councilman says

The News Journal
Posted Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bill Evans comes to Delaware nearly every day from his home in Carneys Point, N.J., to walk his purebred golden retriever, Daisy Belle, in old New Castle or along the Brandywine River.

He would never think about letting her off her leash to run free.

That's because Evans had an Irish setter about 30 years ago who was off leash when it bit a neighborhood child. The boy's mother sued and won, forcing Evans to pay damages.

"There's an example," he said. "If the dog had been on a leash, it wouldn't have happened."

It's the kind of scenario New Castle County Councilman George Smiley wants to prevent with a new law that requires dogs to be leashed while the animals are off their owners' properties.

Council unanimously approved the law Tuesday. It will take effect by mid-March.

"The premise behind it was complaints not only from my constituents, but conversations and comments that I've heard about dogs loose in neighborhoods," said Smiley, D-New Castle. "We've got people walking their dogs off leash and they are not able to control them."

His ordinance tightens language in the county's existing animal-control regulations that allows dog owners to put their pets on a leash or simply keep them "at heel" or "under reasonable control."

The change takes away those last two options and requires dogs to be on leashes no longer than 20 feet when outside the owner's property or vehicle.

The new rule does not apply to cats.

Smiley's law also exempts working dogs, law-enforcement dogs, dogs within a county-designated dog park, dogs participating in a show or behavioral training, and dogs specially trained to hunt.

"I think most people will understand this," said Alyce Duffy, owner of Whiskazz and Pawzz pet boutique in Hockessin. "We've all experienced out-of-control dogs and owners who don't do what they need to do to keep them at bay."

Delaware law states "no dog shall be permitted to run at large at any time, unless the dog is accompanied by the owner or custodian and under the owner's or custodian's reasonable control. ... Any owner or custodian who violates this subsection shall be fined not Margie Schwartz said it's too restrictive for larger dogs -- such as her Lassie-type collie -- that need more room to run in order to get proper exercise.

"It's a shame for the big dogs," she said.

Schwartz, who lives north of Wilmington, said she's always been careful not to let her dog off leash when other people are around. She wishes she still had that option.

Although the county has two "bark parks" where dogs are permitted to run free, they aren't places where Schwartz feels comfortable. She worries her dogs could contract illnesses or be attacked by other canines.

"A lot of dogs are not as well cared for as my own," Schwartz said.

Ruth Kelly, a dog lover who lives in Newark, applauds the new law. But she said it would not have helped her beloved Sassy, a 10-pound poodle mix who was attacked and killed in July 2004 by a neighbor's pit bull.

Both dogs were on leashes at the time.

"It was a tragic accident," she recalled. "I was so upset I thought I was going to die that night."

Kelly now has an orange Pomeranian named Pumpkin that she usually unleashes when she goes to a small park in the Wilton area, where there's hardly anyone around.

But she said she's willing to keep Pumpkin restrained to comply with the new rules.

"It has benefit," she said. "Because you want to get those owners who let their dogs run wild."

A violation of the law is a misdemeanor and carries the same penalty as any violation of the county's code. The penalty is $100 for the first conviction, $125 to $500 for the second conviction within a year, and up to $1,000 or 30 days in jail for the third conviction in a year.

The new law will not burden county police because animal control regulations are enforced by Kent County SPCA, Smiley said. Animal control officers can cite anyone they see violating the law.

"This should make their job easier," Smiley said. "Because they don't have to be the judge and jury of whether the person had the dog under control. They are either on a leash or not."

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