In a long running debate, a group of dog owners lobbying for exemption from Santa Cruz County leash laws loudly proclaim they are going to continue to let their dogs off leash no matter the law, and that enforcement of the leash law doesn’t work because there are still dogs off-leash on County beaches. This is a circular argument (that is, “I still break the law, so enforcement doesn’t work”) that is used as an excuse to demand that law breakers be exempted from the law.
“Enforcement” does not mean 100% compliance. No law ever achieves total compliance, no matter how stringently it is enforced. There are always individuals who decide to flout the law and take the risk of getting tickets or being arrested.
Fortunately, we live in a society where the majority of the people obey most of the laws, and there is no need for an overweening police state to maintain public safety and order. It is only when the illegal acts of a minority group infringe on the rights of the majority that legal pressure must increasingly be brought to bear to protect public health and safety and maintain order in the community.
Such is the case with off leash dogs on County beaches. A small group of dog owners has decided that their desire to allow their dogs to run off leash on local beaches should take precedence over the desires of the rest of beach users for a beach experience unmarred by dogs running uncontrolled. The dog owners have organized to avoid getting tickets from Animal Services officers’ attempts to enforce County leash laws, as they let their dogs loose daily on local beaches.
Meanwhile, the dog owners who admit to breaking the leash laws have the audacity to lobby County government to not only overlook their illegal actions, but to suspend County Leash Laws on the beach in order to allow them to continue to run their dogs off leash. Leash laws were written and are enforced to protect public health and safety, the health and safety of other dogs, and to protect sensitive wildlife and habitats. These off leash dog owners claim their desires trump public health and safety, their own animals’ safety and County, state, federal and international wildlife regulations.
It’s time to put a stop to this egregious “off leash dog gang” behavior. There are 12 off leash dog parks in the County where dog owners legally can let their dogs run off-leash for exercise and socialization, without putting other park users at risk.
If dog owners continue to blatantly ignore existing off-leash dog areas and continue to illegally allow their dogs to run off-leash in shared pubic space, they should be ticketed and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. No “half-price” sales, but full and escalating fines for these repeat offenders. Let them take responsibility for their disregard for the law and stop asking for a free ride from County government.
It’s hard and it’s fair.