From the good intentions, unintended consequences file?
New York City just passed a law outlawing the continuous tethering of dogs. Sounds reasonable enough, doesn't it? It has been known for quite some time that long-term, continuous tethering poses a risk to the mental and physical well-being of dogs, and in some cases, a public health and safety risk as well.
So a reasonable, clearly defined limit on tethering sounds like a good idea to us.
But this morning, the email lists were buzzing, the phones were ringing, and a general chaotic panic enveloped discussions surrounding the topic of this new law.
Apparently, the reasonable limits weren't so clearly defined this time. To the point where people were honestly wondering whether they might get a $250 ticket for showing their dog in Westminster! And not without reason. Here is the problematic language:
b. Notwithstanding the provisions of subdivision a of this section, no person shall tether, leash, fasten, chain, tie, secure or restrain any animal for any amount of time with a device that:
(1) is a choke collar or pinch collar;
It says nothing here about the dog being tied to a stationary object -- by the way this is written, the dog could very well be "tethered" to a dog walker. This is where the fear comes in; a fear that it could be interpreted in such a way as to make anybody walking their dog on a pinch or choke collar some sort of criminal.
Curious about the language, we phoned the NYC City Council to get some answers. Everybody was courteous and open, and frankly, quite taken aback at the notion that Westminster participants might be breaking the law...
We were assured that Westminster participants have nothing to worry about, because:
- the law doesn't come into effect for 90 days.
- even if it took effect immediately, the law was specifically made to target people who tether their dogs outside all day, and the language pertains to them, not people walking their dogs on the street.
- we really, really like Westminster (translation: the dogs are adorable and it brings us a ton of revenue), and will make sure that the Department of Health -- the guys who make the rules on enforcement -- interpret this in such a way as to avoid harming people who aren't continuously tethering their dogs!
Of course there are humaniacs out there who would love to see this local law harm Westminster, but that will not be the case here. The purpose of this law is to keep people from tethering their dogs all day and night, not harass and fine individuals who choose not to use Gentle Leaders.
That said, the language isn't without its problems. For one, in New York, the police and groups like the ASPCA have the authority to interpret animal abuse laws as written, regardless of what guidelines are set forth by the Department of Health. While unlikely, a strict enough reading could make a criminal out of a dog owner who takes his or her dog out for a walk wearing a pinch or choke collar.
And while this law is clearly not aimed at dog hobbyists, there is also the issue of training activities where the animal might become entangled during its learning experience (sled dog training, for example). Again, unlikely, but a literal interpretation in the wrong hands could be a bad thing.
Finally, while people shouldn't be tying their dogs up outside the Quick-E Mart for hours on end, the fifteen minute duration seems a bit goofy and overreaching. A healthy dog won't suffer dehydration or collapse from starvation if he goes without food for 17.5 minutes. It seems here the law is erring on the side of easy enforceability rather than common sense.
Our view on this is that the law is well-intentioned but needs to be clarified. And the hubbub about mass-arrests at Westminster... not gonna happen. We take the City Council at their word on the intent behind this law, and will be following it as it develops.
NOTE: special thanks to our legislative coordinator Julian Prager, for his input on this issue!