-Alexis de Tocqueville, from “Democracy in America.”
Getting a dog in Washington, D.C. is like buying a car. When my friend Sarah adopted a German shepherd that was rescued (I kid you not) from the protests in Cairo, Egypt, she learned she had to move out of her Capitol Hill townhouse because the owner did not allow pets. And not unlike new District drivers, Sarah then learned she was required to license and register her dog with the city, after getting it neutered and vaccinated. To enjoy the city’s few dog parks, Sarah also found out she needed to apply for a dog park registration tag.
In Washington, D.C. and various other centers of urban dwelling in the U.S., becoming a legal dog owner can be an extraordinary and expensive hassle. It can also be an enormous risk.
Consider the March 2011 incident in which a DC police officer drew his gun and threatened to shoot two mild-mannered, unleashed dogs in Rock Creek Park if their owners didn’t leash them immediately.
In the nation’s capital, dog owners are often subjected to the whims and wishes of a few small-time bureaucrats carrying big sticks.
Said bureaucrats can be found in the local Advisory Neighborhood Committees (ANC’s) that wield jurisdiction over certain sections of the city. In the case of the ANC3B, Commissioners Jackie Blumenthal (Sidney’s other half) and Brian Cohen like to lay down the law – even if they don’t know what it is.
Recently, the commissioners have taken to public meetings and community listservs to take issue with dogs at the Guy Mason Community Center – a favorite destination for northwest dog owners where dogs run free, neighbors become friends and responsible handlers look after their respective pets.
Obviously, this is a huge problem.
Blumenthal has argued that the area needs to be officially “established” as a DC-approved dog park, in part, because of an “unofficial, unenforceable rule that dog walkers can’t take more than 3 dogs at a time into the dog park.” That is, until when asked directly about the three-dog rule, Blumenthal told this writer “there is no so-called three-dog rule.”
And during a recent ANC3B open meeting, a DC police officer admitted during the Q&A section of his crime report that he had been asked by Commissioner Cohen (who insists “We love dogs in Glover Park, and welcome dog owners”) to crack down on off-leash dogs like those at Guy Mason and the nearby Stoddert Elementary park. At Stoddert, dog owners were being targeted and fined even though their dogs were safely leashed.
“According to our local commissioners, these dog fines count as an arrest,” said native Washingtonian and dog-owner Joe Kildea. “After hearing this rhetoric emphasized over and over – regardless of whether it is true – homeowners and renters get a clear message that dogs are not welcome.”
“Neighborhoods across the country are passing progressive and realistic dog regulations that improve the lives of dog haters and regulators alike,” Kildea added. “It’s unfortunate our own representatives can’t even get the current law correct.”
To make matters worse, dog regulations at Stoddert and elsewhere are posted on small signs that are easy to overlook. As a result, police can be seen patrolling the area on a near daily basis, which costs a fraction of the taxpayer resources it would take to simply make bigger signs.
For the record, there is a DC law stipulating no more than three dogs can be handled at the same time by the same person in an established dog park. Another law requires dog leashes to be four feet long on District property. When on federal property, the requirement jumps to six feet.
“Does it hurt my business? It does, absolutely,” said Allen Chester, a professional DC dog walker. “In some instances, it does target dog walkers. …Though I’m sure there’s got to be a reason.” Chester went on to recount his own experience with an off-leash pup: “The one time I got ticketed at a dog park, I had taken the dog off the leash to unravel it, and a cop came up and gave me a ticket. I almost got arrested because I stood up to him!”
It makes one wonder why DC commissioners are intent on cracking down on mundane rules and harmless offenders just to establish something that naturally exists anyway – even without the regulatory regime.
“From my experience as a new dog owner in the city, all the parks I go to are self regulated by neighbors,” said Sarah. “They know who new people are and they ask questions about you, your dog, and his training and vaccines. It’s a very tight knit community.”
Let’s hope it stays that way.
Amanda Carey is a writer in Washington, D.C.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire