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My Turn: Don't punish all for mistakes of a few

Posted: Sunday, October 27, 2002

On Thursday, at Cope Park, a Juneau animal control officer gave me a verbal warning that my dog, a 10 year-old well-behaved Labrador, had to be leashed at all times in the park. My dog had been sitting next to me, no more than 10 feet away, chewing a stick. The officer indicated that I would be fined the next time, and that fines would escalate with each event.

I later talked to the officer by phone in length. He very professionally and politely informed me that it was now the animal control unit's intention to require all dogs to be leashed at all times in locations including, but not limited to, Cope Park, Sandy Beach, the wetlands trail, the Brotherhood Bridge trail, Twin Lakes, all public streets and sidewalks, Basin Road, and, possibly, Perseverance Trail. He indicated that he was a dog owner, that he understood my concerns, that his job was to enforce the city ordinances, and that he was most concerned about the safety of the animals and the people who encounter them. Finally, he indicated that "we" had received a number of complaints about dogs that were not leashed.

As a responsible dog owner in Juneau for 13 years, I say there needs to be a call for a little reason here. Yes, we need responsible owners who control their dogs, and clean up after them. (There is little that makes me more angry than an owner that does not control his/her aggressive dog, or one that leaves behind feces.) Yes, those of us with dogs need to use good judgment around groups of people, especially children, and to respect the rights and sensibilities of those who are not animal lovers. And, of course, never should a dog be allowed to roam freely outside the verbal command of his/her master.

But, hey, folks, this is Juneau, Alaska, not Beverly Hills, California! One of the first things I noticed upon my arrival in Juneau in 1980 was the friendliness of the people, followed very closely by the friendliness of the dogs. I have often commented that dogs in Juneau seem to take on, and reflect, the nature of their masters. For the past 13 years I have taken great pleasure, not only in my many walks and runs with my dogs in the places mentioned above, but also in the very social nature of the dogs we encountered and befriended. I have gotten such a kick out of seeing 10, 12, 14 people socializing on Sandy Beach, with just as many dogs socializing right beside them (not on leashes).

And now you're telling me my dog, a runner and swimmer by nature, can no longer chase sticks at Sandy Beach or Cope Park; that he can no longer jog with me on the several trails we have shared together over the years; that I can't even walk with him on the wetlands without a leash. Come on, people, let's use a little reason here!

If we have problem dogs and dog owners in the community (and you wouldn't have the first if you didn't have the second), then let's deal with those dogs and their owners. Surely, it is not that difficult to identify the two if they are truly problematic. Let's not "throw out the baby with the bath water." Let's not punish the 99.9 percent of good dogs and their owners for the behavior of .1 percent of the dogs and their owners who can't seem to get it together. Let's not citify the friendly Juneau that I have known for all these years.



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