All states have dog laws, some more specific than others. Most have some kind of “leash law” in which an owner is expected to keep his dog(s) under control. The presiding judge and the officer who issued the summons said our borough has the highest rate of dog cases in the county. This is how our District Court handled our dog case.
Our neighbor allows his small poodle-type dog to run off leash much of the time. Over a 3-year period, on multiple occasions, we had direct problems with this dog. After the dog bit my pant leg and later “charged” my husband and me, unprovoked, while walking, we had our day in court last week.
This was not a pleasant experience, but it is sometimes necessary to get a dog owner’s attention.
During our hearing, the judge repeatedly read the applicable sections of PA law, which specifically state:
§ 459-305. Confinement and housing of dogs not part of a kennel (a) Confinement and control.–It shall be unlawful for the owner or keeper of any dog to fail to keep at all times the dog in any of the following manners:
(1) confined within the premises of the owner;
(2) firmly secured by means of a collar and chain or other device so that it cannot stray beyond the premises on which it is secured
Although we had told the owner his dog had attempted to bite me, and we wanted him to keep the dog under control, he disregarded us by saying, “My dog doesn’t bite.”
He told the judge his dog was not a biter; the judge told him the dog owners in all of his cases said the same thing until the first bite occurred and they ended up in court on more serious charges.
This was a hearing for a “summary offense,” equal to a traffic violation. Since the owners didn’t plead guilty, they had to defend themselves in court.
Further, according to PA dog laws, a dog “which has attacked a human being without provocation” can be cited as a “dangerous dog.” The owner then becomes guilty of “harboring a dangerous dog,” and he must confine the dog; post a warning sign; muzzle the dog while it’s off property; and pay an annual fee of $500 to register the dog with the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement.
From the time of the incident on August 30 until the court hearing on October 14, we tried to get pictures of the dog running loose. I posted a “$20 reward” notice on our back gate to anyone who could get a time-stamped picture of the dog off leash. Of course, the owners did not allow the dog loose again before the hearing.
I had to testify on the stand under oath and the man, under oath from his seat, was allowed to ask questions of me about the night in question. He said his dog was on his own property at the time; the dog had a cone collar on and couldn’t hurt us; and we came at his family with our canes raised and he felt threatened.
The judge told the defendant he had to ask questions, not make statements. He had to ask something with a question mark at the end of it so that I could respond to it.
The man said he questioned my memory of the incident. I had detailed notes of the incident, plus dates of four other times we saw the dog running loose. On one, it came up to my daughter’s car and bared its teeth when she took the recyclables out. On another, the dog went towards the main street into traffic, and I jumped out of my car to stop him and he ran home.
I told the man he was “remembering” the cone incorrectly because the dog did not have one on. The judge said it didn’t matter to the case.
Judge Frederick said he had enough evidence to find the owner guilty of the charges. I did not need pictures (the wife had said it was their word against ours), and the judge wanted to de-escalate a situation between neighbors. He asked us to remove our “reward” notice on our fence.
He said people often see the same situation differently. He was sure the dog had gone off its property, but he wanted us to settle this so we could remain “good neighbors.” The case was going to be on file for future calls; he would find the man guilty if we made another complaint call.
We shook hands with the man and his son. I said we didn’t want the dog to be hit by a car, and we wanted to feel safe when we walked down the alley in the future. The man said he would keep his dog on leash from now on.
Since we represented the Commonwealth, we paid nothing for our day in court. The dog owner claimed he thought he had his dog under control on his property, but since the dog ran off, he didn’t, and he realized we were genuinely frightened of the dog barking at us. He did not pay a court fee either.
This was an expensive lesson in breaking the leash law. The emotional price of the consequences may have been worth the effort. We have been able to walk our new pup, on leash, at least 30 times since the end of August without incident. The judge and summons officer spent one hour with us to de-fuse a fast-escalating dog problem. What a price to “stay neighborly.”
Know your state dog laws. Don’t think a single “incident” might not cost much. Two incidents with another thoughtless neighbor who didn’t plead “not guilty” led to a $200 fine, and we no longer speak to one another.
At least, with these neighbors, after “airing our grievances,” we are still speaking, and they have learned to keep their dog on leash or on a tie-out, even while it is in their own yard.
PA Dog Laws. http://www.animallaw.info/statutes/stuspa3ps459_502.htm#s305 “Confinement and housing of dogs not part of a kennel.” Retrieved 10-1-10.
Summary court case presented on 10-14-10 before Judge Victor Frederick, IV, District Court, Oley, PA 19547.