The Payson Town Council overrode pleas from at least one dog owner and adopted a leash law with no loopholes for even the best-trained pooches.
The police department had proposed the overhaul of the town's current law to make it clear dogs must be on leashes anytime they leave their yard and to create several new categories of problem dogs.
Current law enables the town to take action only when a dog is "vicious," which means they've attacked a human being. Moreover, conflicting provisions of the existing law suggest that dogs can be off the leash so long as they're under the "control" of the owner.
Stewart Bishop made an eloquent plea on behalf of well-trained dogs, citing studies that show dogs can't get adequate exercise while taking a walk on a leash.
"What we need is an ordinance that deals with the problem dogs and doesn't punish the good dogs," said Bishop. "It's not that dogs will die if you walk them on a leash, just as human beings won't die if you keep them in solitary confinement."
Bishop said the town does need the proposed changes that would impose restrictions on "dangerous" and "potentially dangerous" dogs -- that attack other animals or simply threaten people or other animals. The proposed ordinance would add those categories to the town code, so that dogs that appear menacing or attack other animals would have to be confined in secure back yards with warning signs posted.
"I used to live next door to a pit bull who was almost as mean as his owner," said Bishop. "And if it's a simple off the leash law, it's going to be spite enforcement," with neighbors calling in violations on people and dogs they don't like, said Bishop.
However, the Town's Animal Control Officer Don Tanner took a break from his vacation to lobby for the tougher ordinance.
He said that without the leash law, it would be almost impossible to cite the owner of a vicious dog that got loose and attacked that unoffending but unleashed dog. "If some dog off the leash is attacked by another dog, there's nothing we can do."
He said due to the increasing urbanization of Payson, the town can't afford to let potentially dangerous dogs run around off the leash.
Assistant Town Attorney Tim Wright explained that the current law is contradictory about whether all dogs have to be leashed when they're out of their back yards. One provision of the current law says dogs can't be "at large." But another section simply says dogs must be under "immediate control," which some people think means that the dog will return to the owner's side if called.
The proposed revision in the law eliminates the reference to a dog being "under immediate control" and forbids letting any dog be "at large."
"The proposed law will allow us to deal with things at a lower level," said Police Chief Don Engler, instead of waiting until a dangerous dog actually attacks a person. "We'll have to educate the community as to the change, by handling things with a warning" at the start.
However, Bishop urged the council to leave the reference to "immediate control" in the ordinance, but to define control as being within 75 feet of the owner and coming immediately when called.
"The present control law is vague, but you can have a specific control law. A lot of people in this town love dogs, but you don't hear from the dog lovers because they didn't have anything to complain about -- until now."
Mayor Kenny Evans supported the revision, but observed, "I have seen dogs better trained than I am by my spouse and it's not only nice to see them -- it's fun to watch them keeping their dogs under control."
Ultimately, the council voted unanimously in favor of the changes, but directed Chief Engler to report back to the council in the future about whether the enforcement of the new, no-exceptions leash law has caused problems.