Some Reno dog owners ignore the city’s leash laws
In January of this year, Andy Clayman took his dog, Gertie, for a walk around his neighborhood near the Riverwalk district as he did almost every night. He was aware that some of his neighbors had signs posted with warnings about the dogs they usually kept fenced on their property, but this night was different.
“That particular time we came around the curb, they were messing with their cars and everything, and the dogs were out.” Clayman said. “I got down and protected my dog and yelled out, ‘Your dogs are off leash!’ Both of them made a beeline to my dog.”
The owner called the dogs back, but only one of them listened. The larger of the two sank its teeth into Gertie’s right haunch. To stop the attack, the owner resorted to kicking his dog, which only exacerbated Gertie’s wounds.
“When I got up and said, ‘You know we have effing leash laws in this town?’ he said, ‘Oh you’re going to cuss at me? I don’t deal with people who disrespect me. Go fuck yourself.’ So I was just left there to deal with the tragedy on my own,” Clayman said.
After an emergency surgery to save Gertie, Clayman began the process of pursuing citations against the owners of the aggressive dogs. While he appreciated the quick response that came from Washoe County Animal Services, he said, he quickly became frustrated by the legal recourse available to him.
“I had three choices,” he said. “I could have the dog taken and then sequestered and possibly put down. I could have them fined, or I could do nothing at all.”
Opting to have the owners fined for what he considers their possession of the blame, he sent multiple letters to city officials to start the process, which came to a halt almost immediately when the owners refused to accept the official notice. A few months later, they moved away with no resolution to his case.
Clayman said he was used to encountering off-leash dogs at the Riverwalk even before the attack, but the scope of the problem ranges far wider than just downtown.
“Probably the most frequent citation we would give out is for someone that had an off-leash animal in a park that was not designated as an off-leash park,” said Shyanne Schull, director of Regional Animal Services.
Washoe County Animal Services maintains jurisdiction over Reno’s and Sparks’ six designated off-leash dog parks—Rancho San Rafael, Virginia Lake, Link Piazzo Dog Park at Hidden Valley, Whitaker Dog Park, Sparks Marina Dog Park and Wedekind Regional Park. But Schull’s department handles any and all calls about aggressive animals.
“If you have aggressive animals that bite someone or attack another animal, those are typically things that we could address and deal with whether it’s at a dog park or not a dog park,” Schull said.
Even with the designated off-leash areas in the city, 11,183 of the 35,719 calls received by WCAS in the last year were about unrestrained dogs—the majority in public areas or parks with no designated off-leash zones. The sheer volume of calls prompted WCAS to create their Park Patrol initiative last year to educate and eventually fine negligent dog owners, but it’s gotten off to a slow start.
“What I had hoped was that by this point in time this year we would be in the enforcement phase,” Schull said. “And so we would start out with the educational component of talking to the community, kind of building rapport, and then transitioning it over into an enforcement phase where we hit the parks heavy with enforcement.However, we’re kind of behind in that schedule, so I’m hoping that by the end of this calendar year we’re able to do that.”
Amanda Schultz, who works outreach for WCAS, is one of the staff members responsible for going on Park Patrol. She and at least one animal control officer attempt to visit as many parks as they can to educate the public on Reno’s leash laws—the violation of which can result in a fine of up to $400 and a criminal citation for repeat offenders. But what she found was disheartening.
“What we started to find more and more, in most of these parks is that these people—the owners already know that their dogs are not to be off leash,” Schultz said.
Schultz found that many of these owners let their dogs roam free in public areas out of convenience instead of driving to their nearest dog park. The problem with issuing fines for such behavior, she said, comes down to being in the right place at the right time to catch offenders.
“The struggle that we’re having with a lot of the parks is that as soon as they even see our vehicles, they leash their dogs and leave,” Schultz said. “We only have 13 officers to patrol all of Washoe County. I actually went through an entire list of all the parks and, even hitting multiple parks in a day, we weren’t even able to hit a quarter of them.”
This puts a lot of the onus on the public to deal with irresponsible dog owners. Both Schultz and Schull said that the best course of action in these situations is to gather a complete description of both the owner and the dog, including any accompanying vehicles, and to make a report to WCAS.
Pamela “PJ” Wangsness, owner and lead trainer of Dog Training by PJ, said that many people can also refuse to leash their dogs out of a misplaced sense of security in their dog’s behavior.
“Just because your dog might be social, it’s quite possible that the dog it’s running up on isn’t social,” Wangness said. “Everybody always thinks it’s the aggressive dog that’s in trouble. Well, the aggressive dog, per se, was on-leash. So in essence the person who’s at fault is the person that allowed their dog off leash.”
And confronting such dog owners can escalate an already tense situation.
“It really becomes one of those interactive conversations you want to have with that person, but, unfortunately, they’re already on the defensive for their dog,” Wangsness said. “It erupts into this name-calling situation, when in reality as much as we want to try to educate that other owner, it’s not taken well by the other individual.”
To Andy Clayman, this is also a familiar situation. Three months after Gertie was mauled initially, he reacted to another off-leash dog at the Riverwalk that began to approach his dog yet again.
“The animal control officer, when she had her incident at the emergency vet, told me never to put your hand out, to always kick the dog,” Clayman said. “I kicked the dog, and there was a guy walking behind the [owner] and he ran up to me and said, ‘You don’t fucking kick a dog,’ and knocked me down into the snow.”
In the months after that second incident, Clayman has considered taking matters into his own hands to call attention to the problems posed by not following the city’s leash laws. Last month, due to her advanced age and her injuries, Clayman had to put Gertie down.
“I was going to just set up a table and try to raise consciousness so other people jump in and say, ‘Yeah, it’s enough already,'” Clayman said. “The injustice is, like many things in our society right now, the people who are doing the right things are being ignored.”