Not Much Middle Ground for Dog Owners on Leash Laws

Lisa Pinyard, for the Shuttle

Everyone has a different perspective on what brings happiness to dogs. Park rangers and police officers are mostly concerned with the safety of people and their dogs, while dog owners are more emotionally invested in the individual needs of their pooches. 

In the city, the two sides can and do butt heads over the Philadelphia dog leash law, which requires all dogs to be on leashes no longer than six feet while they’re being walked. Pennsylvania law, meanwhile, states that all dogs “must be under control and must not be allowed to run at large.” The state law seems to imply a leash, but does not state that a dog must be on one. 

In Pennsylvania state parks, a rule from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources states all pets must be on a leash. There are only a couple of exceptions, including assistance dogs. 

Craig D. Walter, chief ranger of Fort Washington State Park, relayed by email that rangers are on a daily patrol throughout the park by vehicle and on foot to ensure the safety of all park visitors. 

“When a ranger sees a violation of the rules and regulations, each incident is handled on a one-to-one basis through explanation and education of the rules regarding pets,” he added.

Now Leashing (Or Not)

In Carpenter’s Woods on a sunny August day, two labradors — one yellow, one black — are happily playing. They are also off their leashes. 

“These animals need running — they need to run,” said one owner, who asked not to be identified.  “It keeps them strong and keeps them healthy. If we were in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, they have a time of day in which dogs can be off leash. I would be happy to obey the law, but I think the law is not balanced enough.”

“The birders feel like the dogs mess up the ground birds nesting,” he continued. “I suppose that’s possible, although I have had a number of big-time birders tell me the big problem is feral cats and people who let their cats run.” 

The owner of the other dog cited their need to explore as a reason to take them off leash. “Dogs evolved to be human companions, but they are sort of this bridge between a wild animal and a domesticated animal,” she said. “They, like us, enjoy having freedom.” 

The owner added that she calls her dog back when she sees other dogs on leash and people walking. “I think it’s important to be considerate of other people,” she said.

The arguments supporting keeping dogs on leash are equally strong among their owners. “Max is a very aggressive dog,” said Val Giesey of Mt. Airy about his Labradoodle-type dog. “We would never let him off leash.”

“He’s a rescue,” added Will Giesey, a co-owner of Max. “He’s scared of kids, scared of strangers, scared of other dogs. But once he gets used to you, he’ll love you.” 

Encountering dogs off leash with Max can make for some tense moments for the Gieseys.

“Another dog will try to come up and interact with him in an innocent way, but when he acts aggressive towards them there is no one to pull their dog back,” Will said. “So it turns into a disaster. I prefer it if no one has their dog off a leash.” 

Will thinks Max isn’t the only dog with these kinds of issues, which is why he supports Philly’s leash law. He also believes the law leaves no wiggle room and should be followed by all.

“Walking around, it’s stated,” he said. “It has an impact on other animals that are not under controI. I mean, it is not one of those debatable rights.”

Lisa Pinyard is a member of the front end staff at Weavers Way Mt. Airy