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!