Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Loose Dog!

Leash laws exist for a number of reasons. Here’s what you need to know

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Have you ever been asked to leash your joyfully romping dog while on a trail or in a park?

What was your response? Embarrassment at being called out for your scofflaw behavior, followed by annoyance or anger? Why shouldn’t your nice dog be allowed to play off his leash? Maybe it’s during a time of day when the area is mostly deserted. He’s not hurting anything, and he wouldn’t attack anyone; he’s a good dog. He might even be one of those rare dogs who come instantly to a recall cue, even if they’re having fun chasing a squirrel.

Maybe you say, “Don’t worry; he’s friendly,” or “My voice is the leash,” or “He doesn’t bite.”

Please don’t go there. Your dog’s personality or behavior isn’t at issue.

Leash laws exist to protect others: other people who might feel threatened by your dog; other people with dogs on a leash who might feel threatened by your dog; other people with children who might be frightened by dogs; other people with poultry or livestock that could be harassed or killed by your dog; other animals and birds -- in protected areas or not -- who might be threatened or killed by your dog.

Loose dogs scare people who don’t like being jumped on or who have allergies. They can knock over toddlers or seniors in a second before you can call them off or leash them.

People who don’t like or are afraid of dogs have just as much right to enjoy parks and trails as people who love dogs. And they have the right to enjoy them without fear of being assaulted by loose dogs, friendly or not.

Dogs walking on-leash with their people also have the right to enjoy streets, trails and parks unmolested by off-leash dogs.

Farmers lose livestock to loose dogs. Off-leash dogs kill poultry, pet rabbits, pet cats, small dogs and wildlife. They stress ground-nesting birds or destroy their eggs. They disturb the healthy ecology of natural areas.

The presence of off-leash dogs causes wildlife to move away from their normal habitat, reducing their ability to eat, reproduce and rest normally. They must expend more energy to seek food, with fewer places to find it. The resulting stress affects reproduction and growth and suppresses the immune system, increasing vulnerability to disease and parasites.

If your loose dog causes an accident, injures someone or damages property, you can be fined or found negligent in a civil suit.

All of these are reasons why leash laws exist. Known as “running-at-large statutes,” they regulate the safety of dogs and humans and help to prevent accidents, in much the same way as seatbelt laws or child car seat laws. They are primarily local ordinances, although two states -- Michigan and Pennsylvania -- have statewide statutes requiring dogs to be under control when off their owners’ premises.

Cities, towns and counties can establish leash laws with conflicting requirements. Leash laws might be in effect only at certain times of day (between sunset and sunrise, for instance) or during certain seasons, such as bird or wildlife breeding periods or, in beach cities, during the summer tourist season.

It’s up to you to know the laws in your area and abide by them, depending on where you are. It’s easy to give the city or county code office a call to find out what regulations apply where you live. Or you could read the signs posted at park entrances or trailheads.

Just because you don’t believe your dog will cause any harm doesn’t give you an “ignore-the-law” card. Politely being asked to leash your dog isn’t an assault on your freedom.

Don’t get defensive.

Here’s all you have to say, in a friendly tone of voice: “Of course, sorry about that. Sunny, let’s get your leash on. Enjoy your walk!”

Q&A

Rabbit virus

affects pet bunnies

Q: I heard recently about a virus that is spreading in wild rabbits. Can my pet rabbit get this disease? How can I protect her?

A: It’s definitely a concern for America’s 6.7 million pet rabbits, although as yet it doesn’t appear to be widespread.

Rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus type 2 is a calicivirus (not a coronavirus). It causes hemorrhaging and has a mortality rate of approximately 80%. It has a rapid incubation period of just one to two days, and can spread quickly through direct contact with infected rabbits or indirect contact with contaminated objects, food or water. The sturdy virus can survive indoors for 10 to 19 months, and rabbits can shed the virus in urine and feces for up to four weeks after infection. Adult rabbits are at greatest risk.

While it primarily affects wild rabbits and hares, the virus threatens pet rabbits, too. (Humans and other animals do not contract this virus.) Signs of disease include fever, appetite loss, unusual nervousness, incoordination or excitement, and difficulty breathing. Some rabbits die suddenly, within 12 to 36 hours.

No treatment is available, but if there has been an outbreak in your area (California, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Washington have seen outbreaks in wild and domestic rabbits), ask your veterinarian about availability of a vaccine. One is approved for use in Europe, but it requires special approval by states, which can’t be requested until there is a confirmed rabbit death from the virus. Pet rabbits in Europe are vaccinated for this virus at 10 weeks and then annually.

The best protection is to keep your rabbit indoors and avoid outdoor playtime. Rabbits who live outdoors should be in hutches off the ground, but they are safer inside. For more information, visit the website of the House Rabbit Society. The USDA also has advice. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

Prepare pets for

being home alone

-- If you’ll be going back to work soon -- or even not-so-soon -- your pets may need an adjustment period to get used to your absence. An article at FearFreeHappyHomes.com offers tips: Consider hiring a dog walker so your dog gets used to walking with someone else. Take some walks while your dog stays at home. When you’re gone, leave the television or radio tuned to a nature show or talk show so pets can hear friendly human voices. Give a puzzle toy filled with treats or kibble before you leave to keep your pet’s brain occupied.

-- Invasive mussel species such as zebra and quagga are a big problem in lakes and rivers, but a former shelter dog named Puddles aims to make sure they don’t take hold in Washington state’s Columbia River, still free of the invasive mollusks. She’s trained to sniff them out on boat bottoms so they can be eradicated before populating waterways and changing their ecology. Trained mussel dogs can save states millions of dollars in cleanup. Puddles is employed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and was trained as a mussel-detection dog by Mussel Dogs in Oakdale, California.

-- Cats make an appearance in many different words and phrases. The catbird takes its name from one of its calls, which resembles the mew of a cat. Catcalls are the whistles, shouts and rude comments made by audiences when they don’t like a performance. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the cat’s meow -- or in some cases, the cat’s pajamas -- refers to anything considered outstanding. Both phrases date to the 1920s. A semiprecious gem called cat’s eye -- usually chrysoberyl or chalcedony -- is so called because of the way it glows, like a cat’s eyes in the dark. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.