Any walk down a Payson neighborhood street provokes a cacophony of barking dogs or a loose mutt bounding out of its yard.
It is enough to scare any frazzled walker or biker back into the safety of their home.
The Payson Town Council last week amended the town animal code to help improve enforcement.
An at-large dog is now defined as one neither confined by a fence or leash, which includes a chain, strap or an electronic collar, also referred to as a shock collar.
The town had never before defined “leash,” leading it up for interpretation and sometimes argument.
Town Attorney Tim Wright said he and Police Chief Don Engler discussed the animal code as part of a systemic review of the entire town code. The council has approved nine other chapter updates.
The substantive change to the animal code is defining leash and including the use of electronic collars in it, Wright said.
The use of such collars is widely debated. Some argue it is cruel to shock a dog, which others say it is an effective training tool.
Councilor Ed Blair, who does not own a dog, said he was curious to find out if at least one town has banned the use of electronic collars as a form of physical restraint.
The city of Alexandria, Va. in 2012 voted to exclude electronic collars as a legal method to physically restrain dogs after an animal welfare group, dog owners and local businesses raised concerns. The town settled on allowing electronic training devices in dog parks and during obedience training, however, at all other times in public, dogs must be physically leashed.
Blair said he also found online that some veterinarians are against the use of shock collars.
“I can’t vote on this,” Blair said, adding he would like more information from local experts, including the humane society.
Wright said part of the thinking in allowing electronic collars is that for someone that has a large dog, an electronic restraint might be more effective than a physical restraint like a leash.
“I mean there are folks in town who are probably outweighed by their animals, because we don’t have a dog that big, but some of these dogs are small horses,” he said.
Veterinarian Sandra Snyder with Payson Pet Care Veterinarian Clinic told the Roundup that electronic collars are widely used for dog containment and training purposes, but like any other training tool they can be abused.
“In the hands of someone who knows what they are doing it can be used properly, but it has the potential like anything, even a leash, if they were cruel they could use it in a cruel way.”
Snyder said she is concerned to learn that the town has approved the use of an electronic collar in lieu of a leash.
“It is not going to keep them from running into the street or in running in front of car,” she said. “It is not going to provide the physical restraint a leash can.”
For someone walking down the road that only has his or her dog on an electronic collar, it will do little to stop a dog that goes to chase after a cat, for example, she said.
“If a dog is that rowdy and incorrigible (an electronic collar) is not going to do anything,” she said.
Sarah Hock, executive director with Humane Society of Central Arizona, said she agrees with Snyder that an electronic collar is not a restraining device.
“It is not going to restrain them from anything,” she said. “That is where a leash needs to come in for safety.”
An electronic collar could only stop a dog from running after a cat if the collar could be turned up so high it incapacitates them, but that could then burn a dog, she said.
While many trainers use electronic collars, Hock believes they are a quick fix that does not solve the underlying behavioral issue.
“Dogs don’t always associate pain with what they are doing,” she said. “It can cause more issues because the dog gains a negative association with the environment.”
At Thursday’s meeting, Blair asked the council to table the issue to a later date.
Mayor Kenny Evans said if they pass the new code, it could still be altered or amended in the future.
With that, the council approved the new code, with Blair and Councilor Fred Carpenter voting against the change.