A peaceful walk around Green Valley Park ended for Samantha Wright with a visit to her doctor and medical treatment.
A dog that had lunged for her dog ended up biting her.
The bite broke the skin and Wright started bleeding. The other owner meanwhile, just kept walking. When Payson Police officers arrived, they found the dog did not have immediate proof of up-to-date vaccinations and quarantined it.
The story is all too common for those who walk their dogs — off-leash, out-of-control dogs in town and on the trails.
Under state law, all dogs must be vaccinated for rabies and licensed. An animal control officer can impound and quarantine unvaccinated dogs for between 10 and 120 days at the owner’s expense.
While many understand rabies and licensing requirements, some are confused about local dog-leash laws.
Can you walk your dog without a leash if it is on an e-collar, commonly called a shock collar?
How long can the leash be?
Does a dog have to be leashed if it is on a trail in the forest?
We asked Police Chief Don Engler to help clarify.
The town’s code states that dogs must be on a leash no longer than 6 feet or on an e-collar while in town.
Payson’s off-leash dog park is the exception, where dogs can be off-leash. As well as on “trails leading to the national forest designated in the Payson Area Trails System,” according to town code. But in all cases the dog must be “under control.”
What classifies as under control?
The town code states, in part, “No owner or person in charge of any dog shall permit the dog to bite or cause injury to any livestock, domestic animal, or person engaged in a lawful activity.”
Outside town limits, Gila County’s dog ordinance does not allow for e-collars and requires that dogs be leashed. Both require a dog to be contained by a fence, kennel, vehicle or house if not under direct control of the owner. It is unlawful to chain a dog up in Payson.
The Roundup reached out to its Facebook users for comments on off-leash dogs.
Many commented that they have come across dog owners who allow their dogs to run up to them, cheerfully calling out, “My dog just wants to play,” or “My dog is friendly.” The other dog may not be, or the person might be scared of a confrontation.
“An off-leash large dog at Rumsey Park on Powerline Road wanted to play, but the dog I had didn’t,” wrote Valina Lusk. “People don’t understand that not all dogs want to be approached by other dogs.”
Arizona law has what is termed “strict liability,” which means that an owner is responsible if their dog bites someone or causes damage, whether on private or public property, even in their own backyard, even if on a leash. The only exception is if the dog owner can prove the bite victim provoked the attack.
Among the many benefits of living in Rim Country are the numerous hiking trails, shared by hikers, mountain bikers, horses and off-road vehicles.
“I’m out in the woods with horses often. Most folks with dogs will leash them when they see us,” wrote Myndi Brogdon. “Unfortunately, we are often not seen by people first. Our trail etiquette is to stop and face a barking dog until the owner can catch up and leash them. Dogs will often try to chase a horse. If we stop and face them they don’t chase our horses. We’ve not had any bad outcomes. But it’s good for folks to be aware they may come across other larger animals, horses, llamas, cows, elk, etc. and be prepared for their dog’s reaction.”
Neilee Bolla said she often walks her dogs off-leash when in the forest.
“What I love about Payson is all the space I can hike without running into a bunch of people,” she said. “I enjoy hiking with my dogs off leash, but I always leash them when we see people or 4x4s approaching. Even if people are okay with dogs, I don’t think it’s polite to let your dog run up to everyone they see.”
While training is key, veterinarians say even dogs with excellent recall can pick up the scent of another animal and take off, often with their owner helpless to get them back.
Angus, a German shepherd, went missing for 18 days after he disappeared from a campsite despite his owner training him to stay when off-leash.
Thanks to the volunteer efforts by residents and a Humane Animal Rescue and Trapping Team, Angus was reunited with his owner, but not before he was hit by a car. (See story “Lost in the Forest” on paysonroundup.com.)
Angus was one of the lucky ones. Surgery repaired his broken leg and he is home now. Other dogs are never found.
Often, it’s the dogs that pay the price for their owner’s refusal to obey the law.
Some people reported that they don’t take their dogs out anymore because they fear encounters with off-leash or aggressive dogs on the trail.
It only takes one traumatic incident to cause lasting psychological and/or physical harm to a dog or a person.
“I’m off leash a great deal of the time, but I always leash when approaching others,” wrote Jonnie Geen. “I like to consider it as having nice trail manners. But I sure come across folks with their dogs and I cringe at their inappropriate behavior. Good manners are difficult to criticize, leash or no leash. I often hear ‘my dog is friendly’ and then the dog jumps up on me or tries to get after my dogs.”
So if on a trail or at the park, keep your dog on a leash and under control. If you see approaching hikers and/or dogs, it’s a good idea to shorten the leash, ask your dog to sit and wait for others to pass.