Should dogs be allowed to be unleashed while they accompany their owners on trails? What does the law say?
Unleashed dogs on trails has been an issue in our neighborhood in recent years, but it’s an issue that reaches far beyond our neighborhood. A post in the Goldstream Community Facebook page about it recently generated a lot of comments, some of them heated.
Fairbanks is a doggy town. A lot of active people own dogs. Some people — while walking, biking, skiing, or doing a variety of other activities — like to have their dogs accompany them unleashed.
In discussions about unleashed dogs on trails, the Fairbanks borough’s “leash law” usually comes up. Some people call Animal Control to find out more about the law, but few people seem to actually read it. That’s understandable. It can be hard to find. When you do find it, it has to be picked apart a bit.
In the interest of more informed discussions, I have included an annotated version of the Fairbanks “leash law” below. I hope this will help future discussions and help people find ways to get along better on the trails.
Fairbanks North Star Borough “Leash Law”
The FNSB “leash law” is fairly simple, but crucial details are buried in the definitions. Here’s the law (I have capitalized key words):
22.28.010: Proper restraint of animalshttps://fnsb.borough.codes/FNSBC/22.28.010
No owner or caretaker shall fail to properly RESTRAIN their animal to prevent it from running AT LARGE.
What’s key here are the definitions of “restrain” and “at large.” “At large” is simple (see below), but “restrain/restraint” is more complicated. Also, people often mention voice control as an alternative to a leash but see numbers 2 and 3 under “Restraint.”
At large” means any animal not under RESTRAINT.
“Restraint,” for the purposes of this title, means:
1. Physical confinement, as by leash, chain, cable, fence or building; or
2. Under COMPETENT VOICE CONTROL when an animal is engaged in a RECOGNIZED ANIMAL ACTIVITY or form of training requiring that it not be physically confined; or
3. Under COMPETENT VOICE CONTROL of a person who is PHYSICALLY PRESENT with an animal when that animal is on the PROPERTY OF THE OWNER OR ON PRIVATE PROPERTY WITH THE PERMISSION OF THE PROPERTY OWNER; or
4. An electronic fence that controls the movement of an animal by emitting an electrical, physical or audible stimulus when the animal wearing an electronic collar nears the boundary of the property; provided, that a sign must be clearly posted on the property indicating the use of such device.
“Competent voice control” is not defined in the borough code, so this leaves a big gray area in defining it. Some dogs are clearly under voice control — reacting to commands right away or, at minimum, on the second try – while others are clearly not. Some obey – after a while. (Or maybe they just obey when they want to.) In any case, “competent voice control” is a substitute for a leash (or other restraining device) only in certain circumstances.
So, the only somewhat ambiguous term left is “recognized animal activity.” Some people believe that exercising your dog is a “recognized animal activity.” Others do not. People I’ve talked to have even gotten different answers from Animal Control. Or maybe they heard want they wanted to hear. I don’t know. I wasn’t part of the conversations. In any case, here’s the definition in the borough code:
Recognized animal activity
“Recognized animal activity” means events, trials or training generally accepted by animal organizations, or hunting when conducted in accordance with state regulations and the owner can demonstrate that the animal is trained to perform in that hunting sport.
After reading that definition, I don’t agree that exercising your dog by taking it out for a run or walk is a “recognized animal activity,” but I understand reasonable people can have other views.
BE AWARE, BE POLITE, BE RESPONSIBLE
Whatever your interpretations of the law, if you are a dog owner please just be aware that your actions (or inactions) and those of your dog can affect others, sometimes badly. Keep in mind that other people use trails, that not everyone wants to deal with dogs, and that other trail users can appear quickly. If all dog owners who like to have their unleashed dogs accompany them on the trails were highly responsible, we would have far fewer problems.
POOP PET PEEVE
And while I have your attention, whether leashed or unleashed, if your dog poops on the trail please clean it up. I understand that mushers and skijorers can’t realistically do so, but other users can.
If you want to bag it and dispose of it, great. But at least fling it off into the woods. Dog poop is foul. It’s nasty when it gets stuck on your boots, snowshoes, skis, bike tires, whatever, and then thaws when you take that equipment inside. (Not to mention the “klister effect” unfrozen poop has on skis.) And while our winter temperatures are usually low enough to freeze poop fairly quickly, spring always comes. Yuck!
Thank you for clarifying terms for us. I think it would really benefit people to know the legal ramifications of an unrestrained dog. As in, if an unrestrained dog injures a restrained animal resulting in a trip to the veterinarian or gets injured by a restrained animal resulting in a trip to the veterinarian. I would think the owner of the unrestrained dog would be financially liable, but it would be nice to know for sure.
Not all dogs off leash are friendly either. My dog is friendly to all people and all dogs therefore I have had to voice command train her to come to me when I see other dogs out and about. Some people seem to not care if their dog is other dog friendly or not and will just let them run loose without any control whatsoever on the dog. It is imperative that people recognize if their dog isn’t other people or dog friendly and keep them on leash at all times when off their own property. My girl is voice trained and wears a e-collar when off our property and I carry her leash with me; even in a dog park
I highly recommend carrying a can (or two) of bear spray while using trails in and around Fairbanks. A collapsible baton is a good idea too. I have lived and traveled many places and no other place has such a problem with unrestrained dogs. I have been very close to spraying aggressive unrestrained dogs on several occasions. Irresponsible people have made their pets a menace and health hazard. Irresponsible dog owners be warned, some folks have a more permanent solution than bear spray at their side!
Eric Troyer says
I agree. I’ve used bear spray on a few dogs. They sneeze, shake their heads, and walk off, leaving me alone. However, be very careful that you know which way the wind or breeze is blowing, even if it seems calm. I learned that from experience!
Bunny Breeder says
This would, unfortunately, be classified as animal cruelty. As a rabbit breeder who has lost all my animals to dogs on three occasions (the third days later due to stress from prolonged stalking / barking), we have contacted the troopers to clarify our options. If we hurt a dog with paintball, sticks, bear spray etc we can be charged with animal cruelty. If we shoot it dead, we are legally in the right and the owner needs to pay for any damages to my livestock. I think it would be the same on a trail. You can protect yourself, but you can’t injure a dog then leave it.
I don’t want to kill a dog. I want dogs to be under owners control so I don’t have to.
Eric Troyer says
I certainly agree with your last sentence. As to whether those methods would be classified as animal cruelty, I would imagine it would be on a case-by-case basis, including what the responding trooper thinks. Interpreting the law is often a part of their job, and without some clear black-and-white lines they interpret things differently.