COLUMN: The lack of leashed dogs in our public places is a serious problem

Though I’m only in my mid-20s, the longer I go through life the more I see myself taking a stance that people should be able to do what they want as long as it doesn’t hurt someone else, and that government sticking its fingers in every aspect of life isn’t necessary. Some may call this falling in line with libertarians, but I think it just makes sense. 

Then, the other side of me – maybe the logical side – retorts that I know most laws are necessary for a functioning society. One of these laws concerns leashing your dog when in public, something that’s ignored by a chunk of folks in Morgantown. 

In 2014, the City of Morgantown released a document titled “Pet Safety Tips and City Codes.” A quick scroll down the page shows these codes: 

“505.1(b) No person being the owner of or having charge of any dog shall permit it to run at large upon any public place or the premises of another. Dogs not confined on the owner’s property shall be maintained on a leash of a length no longer than six feet. The name and address of the owner and the City tax tag shall be attached to the collars of dogs at all times.”

“505.16(a) No owner or custodian of any animal shall cause or allow such animal to soil, defile or defecate on any public property or upon any street, sidewalk, public way, or upon private property other than that of the owner, unless such owner or custodian immediately removes and disposes of all feces deposited by such animal by the following methods: 1. Collection of the feces by appropriate implement and placement in a paper or plastic bag or other container; and 2. Removal of such bag or container to the property of the animal owner or custodian and disposition thereafter in a manner as otherwise may be permitted by law.”

Maybe folks have forgotten these codes. Maybe they never saw them in the first place. But wouldn’t common sense say the best option is keeping your dog leashed when in public spaces? Doesn’t it make sense to pick up your dog’s poop so others don’t step in it? 

“But my dog listens to my commands!”

“There aren’t any dog waste cans near my house!”

I can hear you screaming through your computer or at your newspaper now. I never really paid attention to dogs running off-leash in public before I got a dog, but now that I do, and a dog that is leash-reactive, nonetheless, when I see another dog off-leash my stomach knots up knowing it could be a serious problem should that pup run up to me and Jillian. There have been moments when my girlfriend or I have had to pick Jillian up because an off-leash dog ran up to us, no owner in sight or if they were, far away from the dog. We carry pepper spray in case the situation escalates. Better to have some spray with us than to have the alternative happen, us or Jillian getting attacked or bitten by a dog off-leash. 

This brings me to another point. Your dog isn’t always going to listen to you, and keeping them on a leash is much better than a fight breaking out. If another animal approaches them, things could escalate regardless of their normal demeanor and vice versa. Just play it safe and keep them on a leash. Not only could you be fronting a bill for basic care stemming from a bite wound or wounds, but your dog could also die if their injuries are severe enough, such as if a small dog was attacked by a larger one. And if your dog is off-leash and doing the attacking, its life could be at risk despite the severity of wounds inflicted on the other animal. Plus, if you’re near a road, it can be hit by a car if it decides to break off from you when on the trail or sidewalk. 

And about that poop problem. 

Not only do I see it on our normal walks around town, either on the sidewalk, in other peoples’ yards or on the side of the road in those little grassy berms, I see it on walking trails, hiking trails and scattered around WMAs when I’m hunting. According to the information I could find, the fine for not picking up your dog’s poop is $25. That’s too low. To stick it in people’s minds, a fine shouldn’t be the cost of a tank of gas. Or, if the city feels strongly about not raising the price of the fine, they could enforce this code and use the money to put up more of those wastebaskets. Or, just spend some money and do it regardless – that is a serious downfall of living in certain parts of this city.

Even when both of these codes are in front of peoples’ faces, like at White Park on the big sign at the trailhead, it still doesn’t register that a leash and some bags to clean up after your dog are needed. Truthfully, it’s pitiful. 

I imagine some of this is from new owners that don’t understand the greater implications of not picking up poop or having their dog off-leash. I imagine some of it is laziness, too. And, yes, I imagine a portion of it is ignorance and downright rebellion against a “stupid” city code. 

So, next time you’re out with your dog, please keep in mind the bad things that could happen should you not clip that leash on them. Are you willing to risk your dog’s life for a few minutes of off-leash freedom?

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