READER CONFESSION: Sometimes if there is no one around (or just a few people, or occasionally even near a busy street…) I let my dog off-leash. She’s well-behaved and we’ve never had any issues, but I still get strange looks from people and wonder if what I’m doing is okay.
AM I BREAKING THE LAW?
WHAT IS THE LAW ON THE BOOKS?
Municipal Code of Chicago; 7-12-030; Animals shall be restrained. This law dictates that all people with pets must keep their companion animal on a leash whenever they are outside their caregiver’s property.
WHO DOES THIS AFFECT?
This mostly affects you, and how awful it would be if something horrible happened to your dog. It also affects any other dogs or people in the vicinity who may be afraid of dogs, have allergies, or just don’t feel like socializing. While your four-legged constituent may have the best intentions, not everyone is going to love your dog as much as you do.
THE REASONING BEHIND THE LAW
All people deserve to walk freely around the city without feeling threatened. (Even if you think there is no way your tiny five-pound fluff ball could scare someone, there is a person out there who is terrified of her!) If people were not required to keep their dogs on-leash while moving about the city, the potential for unwanted encounters between people and dogs and between dogs and other dogs would increase exponentially.
A violation of this law carries a fine of $300. However, if your pet is unrestrained and severely injures another person, the fine is raised to a minimum of $1,000 with a maximum of $10,000. Damage to property carries a fine between $300 and $1,000. In addition to a fine, you may be required to submit full restitution to the victim, be incarcerated for up to six months, or be required to perform up to 100 hours of community service (or any combination of those).
IS THIS LAW REALLY NECESSARY?
Yes. Who is it really hurting when you let your dog off-leash? Hopefully no one. But while we understand that it can be tempting to let your well-behaved dog off-leash on a quiet Sunday morning or at an empty park, there is always the danger of an unknown variable distracting your dog and eliciting fearful or unusual behavior––a risk that could end up in injury to your pet or others. Plus, should a police officer happen upon you and your leashless dog, you may receive a ticket and a fine.
Do the right thing: Be a good canine ambassador and keep your dog on-leash. This easy choice protects her health and well-being, eases the comfort level of those around you, and makes you a kind, conscious, law-abiding citizen.