Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Does Off-Leash Reduce Dog Bites?

As we've reported, the off-leash fanatics and now even the DOPR credit the "courtesy hours" policy for reducing reported dog bites in New York City. So, you'd think, there must be data correlating lower reported dog bits with rules permitting dogs to run loose and unfenced. Think again.

According to a recent press release by the National Canine Research Council, which bills itself as “the leading source of accurate information on dog attacks, publishing well-documented, reliable research to improve the lives of dogs and the communities in which they live”, reports of dog bites nationally—not just in New York City—have been falling, particularly in the last ten years. The press release credits, among other things, “the enactment and enforcement of leash laws” and goes on to say that steps a community could take to help keep both people and dogs out of harm's way include to “encourage the enforcement of leash laws.” Interestingly, the press release gives no credit to the enactment of rules permitting dogs to be off-leash; it doesn’t mention these rules at all.

This should not be surprising: it seems that in San Francisco, the number of reported dog bites has been increasing, and that city has which has been on the vanguard of the off-leash movement. For this, read Dog Docket, by Dashka Slater, in the July-August of “Legal Affairs”, about some local dog owners who regularly flout federal law by running their dogs in a national park because they think they have a right to. According to the article, “park officials contend that off-leash dogs roam onto sensitive dunes, dig up plants, chase birds and rabbits, and harass sea lions. They say that dogs wander down cliffs and get lost or stuck, sometimes getting their owners in trouble as well . . .” The article quotes a Rutgers law professor as saying: "I've never had my dogs off-leash—I have seven of them. I am as strident and ardent an animal rights person as you're going to find: I don't eat animals, I don't wear animals, and I don't let my dogs off-leash. It's not a question of the dog's right, it's a question of protecting the dog. The idea that there's some kind of right to run off-leash—this is why animal rights people get a bad name, because they have idiotic ideas like this." Read the whole thing.


kcdogblog said...

Personally, I think it's great for dogs to run off leash as long as there are designated areas for the behavior and as long as dogs are under voice command. Many owners are incapable of doing this, but it's a good model to strive for for a lot of reasons. 1)Dogs need time to socialize with other dogs -- lack of socialization is a common problem now for dogs of all types and 2) Even the most responsible owner is highly likely to have their dog get "loose" at some point -- free from a fence, leash, cracked door, window, something. Having a dog that will listen and come back that you can manage off leash is crucial in these situations -- and the most responsible dog owners I know succeed at this. Not being able to manage this is not the best option...

credo-ny said...

Some of this is very well and good, hypothetically. But as kcdogblog says, "as long as dogs are under voice command". As respected dog authorities--not the dog authorities that have supported New York's off-leash policy--have pointed out, most dog owners think they have voice command of their dogs but few do. And the areas we are talking about in New York's parks are wholly unfenced. Nothing but the owner's largely ineffectual voice command keeps the dog within that area, assuming the owner wants the dog to stay within the area in the first place. We, personally, have been threatened outside these designated areas by off-leash dogs who were supposed to be--by law--under their owners' "control" and within the designated area. We also do not understand why dogs need to be off-leash to socialize with other dogs. Finally, we fail to understand why other park patrons should be prevented from using large swaths of the public parks, and why taxpayers at large should be paying for the damage these dogs cause to the parks, so that some dog owners can train their dogs to behave correctly.

kcdogblog said...


I don't have kids - but as a taxpayer I pay for a lot of playground equipment that is used by people's kids. I don't play tennis either, but I regularly pay for tennis courts. In most areas, about 40% of people own a dog (I think New York's Numbers are in the mid-30% range). That's a larger percentage than the number that have children.

A good parks system will have a little something for everyone -- parents, tennis players, bikers, joggers, swimmers, tennis players, picnickers, dog owners, etc. I don't understand why every is expected to share with everyone else except for dog owners.

Off-leash dog areas have proven to be very successful in a lot of different areas. Calgary has one of the lowest bite rates per capita in all of North America. They have over 150 off leash areas (all unfenced).

I'm not saying you're wrong, a lot of people who say they have their dog under voice command really don't have the dog under true voice command. That's a problem. But the idea that a dog should live in a way that it would never be outside and allowed to run free of a 6 foot leash seems absurd to me. A person in NYC (where the vast majority of people have no yard) would have zero opportunity to have their dog ever run free of a leash without dedicated off-leash areas under your idea of utopia. That doesn't measure up to me.

credo-ny said...

You’re comparing apples and oranges and setting up straw men.

1. “A good parks system will have a little something for everyone.” Agreed. A good parks system should provide places for bikers to bike, joggers to jog, swimmers to swim, picnickers to picnic, and dog owners to walk their dogs, on-leash. The last is not a given; for example, the municipal parks of Beverly, Mass. allow dogs during limited hours only, and then only on-leash; and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden doesn’t allow them at all. In fact, with some specific exceptions—ballfields, for example—dog owners may walk their dogs anywhere they want. (And we’re not even sure that is right—the parks have nature preserves where, we think, even leashed dogs shouldn’t be allowed. ) By contrast, bikers may not ride on sidewalks or in the woods. Nobody has proposed giving them the right to do so during certain hours of the day, effectively giving them the exclusive right to the parks during those hours. Swimmers may not swim in park lakes; there are municipal swimming pools. Nobody has proposed inundating vast areas of the parks for several hours a day to give them more places to swim. Tennis players have tennis courts. I’ve never seen them try to monopolize one of Prospect Park’s lawns, and I have no doubt that the police would stop them if they tried. But this just what now has been done for dog owners—they have, in effect, exclusive use of vast areas of the City’s parks before 9 A.M.. As we’ve pointed out, in Prospect Park, that is all of the park’s open areas, over 1/3 of the park’s total area.

2. Do you also believe that crowded municipal parks should provide places for ATVs? New York’s parks don’t, for good reason. The New York City government is not wealthy, and its Parks Department has limited budget for maintenance. It cannot afford to fix unnecessary messes. ATVs cause severe damage wherever they are permitted. So do unleashed dogs, which is one of the reasons why they were never before permitted in New York’s parks. As we’ve pointed out, the NYC parks department website used to say so. And joggers, tennis players, swimmers and picnickers don’t damage parks.

3. There are, to my knowledge, no published statistics as to what percentage of New York’s dog owners use off-leash areas. If in fact there are no published statistics, it would mean that that percentage is very low, because otherwise the off-leash groups would have trumpeted them. But the comparison with children is inappropriate anyway. For good reason, society encourages people to have children. You might not play tennis, but tennis is a form of exercise, which society also encourages, also for good reason. Dog ownership is a luxury. You pay for your own luxuries, and you don’t have the right to make society give you those luxuries when it’s going to hurt someone else. But that’s precisely what New York City has done with its misguided—lunatic—off-leash policy.

4. According to information online, Calgary has a population of about 1 million and an area of 720 square kilometers. New York City has a population of over 8 million and an area of 832 square kilometers. So the population density of New York City is about 8 times that of Calgary. Calgary might have room for unfenced off-leash areas where the dogs can’t bother anyone else. New York City does not.

5. “But the idea that a dog should live in a way that it would never be outside and allowed to run free of a 6 foot leash seems absurd to me. A person in NYC (where the vast majority of people have no yard) would have zero opportunity to have their dog ever run free of a leash without dedicated off-leash areas under your idea of utopia.” We didn’t say that there shouldn’t be fenced dog runs. According to the Parks Department's website, New York City actually has something like 55 of them.