“Can I really get in trouble if my dog’s off a leash?”
By Chelsey Del Testa
I see and experience it far too often in San Diego; people peacefully walking their dogs, obeying the San Diego City leash laws and along comes an unleashed dog frantically approaching with the owner running behind yelling, “Don’t worry (s)he’s friendly!” That may be true, but what many dog owners don’t think about is: 1) just because your unleashed dog is “friendly”, that my leashed dog is going to be as receptive when being rampantly charged at; and 2) that you know how your unleashed dog is going to react in every situation.
So what are the consequences of violating the leash law? What are a dog owner’s rights when an unleashed dog bites a leashed dog or a leashed dog bites an unleashed dog?
In San Diego, a dog that is brought into a public or private area where dogs are permitted must be restrained by a handheld leash no longer than 6 feet in length (San Diego County Code 62.669[a], 62.601[d], and 62.601[y]). Further, even if your dog is leashed, you must have the ability to control your dog at all times. The fine for violating the leash law can range from $240 for first time offenders to $430 and even $810 for second and third time offenders.
An owner who violates the leash law and whose unleashed dog subsequently attacks a leashed dog is likely to face civil liability for the amount of harm done to the dog; and possibly even misdemeanor criminal liability for violating the leash law and public protection from dogs law (SDCC 62.669). Additionally, the owner could be liable even when the presence of the dog off the leash was unintentional. (3 Cal. Jur. 3d Animals § 124). This imposes strict liability on the dog owner for any harm their dog causes to another person including that person’s property, which includes dogs (Cal. Penal Code § 491 (West)). An owner who is obeying the leash law and whose dog subsequently attacks an unleashed dog who was the initial aggressor will not likely face liability unless the leashed dog had a propensity for violence and/or despite having your dog on a leash you were still unable to control him.
Bottom line: obey the leash laws or patronize the numerous local dog parks in San Diego where your dogs can run free. You can find a list of local leash-free locations at http://www.sandiego.gov/park-and-recreation/parks/dogs/index.shtml. All of these potentially tragic encounters can be avoided by keeping your pet on a leash in designated areas. No pet owner wants to see their cherished pet injured, so do your part; your dog and fellow dog owners will thank you!
Chelsey is a legal intern at Bonnici Law Group and a third-year student at Thomas Jefferson School of Law. She is passionate about animals and their well-being. For any questions, ideas, or comments feel free to email Chelsey at the Bonnici Law Group.
Cal. Civ. Code § 3342
Cal. Penal Code § 491