Unleashed and soon to be illegal/Craig Medred photo


UPDATE Feb. 17, 2021

The Municipality of Anchorage has now answered the request to review its records, as stipuled by state law, to try to determine where, if and to what extent there have been problems caused by unleashed dog accompanied by their owners. This is the official answer:

“At this time, we cannot fulfill your records request.  It would require staff research and data analysis for upwards of 150 hours in order to collect the 2020 records related to dog bites.  We are not required to fulfill requests if we do not have a report that provides the information requested or if they require conducting research or analyzing data.  This request falls under both of those categories.  Staff would need to research all complaint records to find those relating to bites, analyze which of those were dog bites and considered confirmed bites, and then compile this information into a viewable report for you.”

A proposal to require dogs be leashed wherever they venture with their owners within the Municipality of Anchorage – an area larger than the state of Rhode Island – has inspired a raging debate in Alaska’s largest city.

On one side are the lovers of what has been called “man’s best friend,” some firmly committed to the belief that Fido, or at least their Fido, can do no wrong.

On the other side are those who fear Fido as more dangerous than the moose and bears, both black and grizzly, that roam the municipality. All three of the latter have killed adults in the Anchorage area.

There appear to have been no adults killed by dogs, but children have fallen victim. A six-year-old died just 12 years ago after being attacked by her family’s pitbull. She was bitten in the neck while “playing” with the dog in the family’s mobile home, according to the website DogsBite.org, which tracks dog attacks.

Homes are the site of most serious dog attacks and, sadly, children are most often the victims.

“More than 50 percent of all dog bite victims are children,” according to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which oversees a highly respected children’s hospital. “While only 12 percent of adults require medical treatment, 26 percent of all children need to go to the emergency room or see a doctor. The most likely place for the attack to occur is in the home of the victim. The second most likely place is at the home of a friend of the victim. Seventy-seven percent of biting dogs are owned by the victim’s family, a relative or a friend of the family.”

The dangerous places

Dogs in the home are well-documented as a potential threat to children, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), which in 2001 organized a Task Force on Canine Aggression and Human-Canine Interactions to examine what might be done about what it called “a serious public health problem.”

The report bluntly laid out the good and the bad in the relationship between canines and humans:

  • “Dogs have shared their lives with humans for more than 12,000 years, and that coexistence has contributed substantially to humans’ quality of life.
  • “Approximately 334,000 people are admitted to U.S. emergency departments annually with dog bite-associated injuries, and another 466,000 are seen in other medical settings.
  • “The insurance industry estimates it pays more than $1 billion per year in homeowners’ liability claims resulting from dog bites.
  • “Hospital expenses for dog bite-related emergency visits are estimated at $102.4 million. (And) there are also medical insurance claims, workmen’s compensation claims, lost wages, and sick leave-associated business costs that have not been calculated.”

The report conceded that the only way to fully eliminate these problems would be to ban the ownership of dogs, but it suggested there were things communities could do to decrease problems and increase safety.

The report also offered a warning about responding to public-demands to blindly “do something” because “the something that is done often reflects a knee-jerk response. Only later do officials realize that the response was not effective and, in fact, may have been divisive for the community.”

Enter Anchorage

Alaska’s largest city is today in the midst of the divisive.

The local newspaper has featured dueling commentaries on the evils of dogs running free with their owners and the horrors of forcing owners to keep their animals always chained to them like canine slaves when out and about.

The situation in Anchorage is unique in that most of the real estate within the 1,961-square-mile Municipality of Anchorage is wilderness or near-wilderness. 

Most Anchorage residents are dense packed into what is called the “Anchorage Bowl,” a 112-square-mile patch of relatively flat land squeezed between Cook Inlet and the Front Range Chugach Mountain. But even around the rim of the bowl, there are any number of low-density, residential neighborhoods where dogs and their owners can go for a walk on the road (sidewalks are largely non-existence outside the city’s 50-year-old urban core) and encounter few or sometimes no other people.

The same is true on some of the many trails in the city and in the large sprawl of vacant public land and parks, including the half-million-acre Chugach State Park, that abut the city to the east and north.

Still, even in winter, some of these trails are busy with walkers, runners, skiers, fat bikers, snowshoers and more. The situation is complicated.

The majority of Anchorage residents would likely agree there are places where dogs should be required to be on the leash, and others where well-socialized dogs that respond to commands are OK running off leash.

None of these areas have been delineated at this time, and how much of a problem dogs are in general on municipal walkways, trails and roads is unclear. Michelle Sinnott, vice-chair of the Animal Control Advisory Board, directed questions about the issue to Tamiah Liebersbach with the municipality’s Department of Health and Human Services.

“Tamiah should be able to provide you with some of the statistics that you are asking about,” Sinnott emailed. “Statistics being what they are, I don’t know that the numbers we have will be able to answer all of your questions (like which incidents involve children versus adults). But, Tamiah can provide you what we have.”

What information the city turns out to have is little.

“From 2016-2020, there were an average of 503 dog bites per year reported to Anchorage Animal Care and Control,” Liebersbach reported.

Nothing + nothing + nothing

How many of those bites involved unleashed dogs accompanied by their owners on trails, sidewalks, streets or the public parts of residential areas where the proposed new ordinance would require dogs be leashed at all times? 

She didn’t know.

How many of the bites happened on public property in general? She didn’t know.

How many happened in homes or on private property where the leash law wouldn’t apply? Didn’t know. How many bites were serious? Didn’t know. How many involved children? Didn’t know. How many involved loose dogs that have escaped from their owners? Unknown.

Apparently, some of this data exists but has never been pulled together to define the extent of the dog problem in Anchorage.

“I have requested an estimate for the staff time required to provide you with these records and will get back to you with an estimated charge for your request sometime next week,”Liebersbach offered. “The Municipality charges for the time it takes to search for, retrieve, and redact records as necessary at a rate of $40 per hour for any time over 15 minutes.”

An email noting that state law stipulates that “the public records of all public agencies are open to inspection by the public under reasonable rules during regular office hours,” accompanied by an offer to sit down and go through the records to try to define the problem went unanswered.

Nationally, the best data on dog bites is almost two decades old. It was compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2001 and estimated 4.7 million dog bites per year in the U.S., 799,700 of which required some kind of medical care.

Since then, there have been but a handful of local and regional studies conducted, and the results generally track the conclusions drawn in the CDC report. Given this, an attempt can be made to analyze the Anchorage data using the CDC findings.

The CDC study would dictate about 17 percent of dog bites require medical attention. At that rate, Anchorage would have seen an average of 86 serious bites – discounting any psychological injuries – from 2016 to 2020.

The CDC reported noted that the injuries were heavily weighted toward those under age 18, and that 80 percent of the minors who were bitten were in their home or that of a friend when injured.

The report also observed that “75 percent of fatal dog bites were inflicted on family members or guests on the family’s property,” but did not report the percentage of bites in general that happened on private property.

Local government officials in Washington, D.C. report “85 percent of bites occur at the owner’s home.’‘ The percentage is unknown in Anchorage, but given the data from other communities, it is likely more than 50 percent and certainly less than 100 percent.

At the 50 percent rate, Anchorage might be witnessing somewhere around 40 significant dog bites per year on public property somewhere, but the number could be well less than that. No one has done the analysis to find out.

Bites, of course, are not the only injuries caused by dogs. Free-running dogs have collided with and injured cyclists in the municipality, and aggressive dogs have terrorized some Anchorage residents.

To what extent these issues would be reduced by the proposed new leash law is, however, is wholly on known at this point has made any effort to define the factual extent of the existing problem.

Thus the problem is both as big as some people think and as small as others believe because the entire discussion is taking place in the world of opinion sans facts. Why?

That’s another question with no answer.







21 replies »

  1. The only thing worse than dealing with other peoples dogs is dealing with other peoples children. It’s not the kids fault or the dogs fault that the person responsible for them sucks at life.

  2. municipality of anchorage is huge with fairly remote areas . Remote meaning pretty wild undeveloped and with few people within an hours walk . Forcing all dogs to be leashed is disfunctional for the purpose and freedom of the dog as well as questionable infringement on a citizens right to make personal choices regarding happiness and safety. That said with freedom comes responsibility and reasonableness. Perhaps a solution is voice command certification for dogs in the municipality due to it being a residential area . Maybe leash free dogs would need tested and certified once every couple years . They could wear a special flag on their collar . Temper that certification with requiring dogs that are breeds commonly known for agression to only receive certification to be leash free in specific zones , maybe fenced areas . Thats just a start of an idea but there is absolutely no reason all dogs need leashed just because a few bad apples . There are lots of criminals running around in anchorage- should all humans be leashed and monitored just because of few bad actors? Ive seen dogs so kind, responsible and smart they would have been qualified to walk their human on a leash 😉

  3. Craig,
    The last draft I read indicated that this would only apply to the municipalities real property (property they actually own). As far as my understanding, it would not apply on any state or federal land within the municipality. The muni has a list of developed trails they used for another ordinance which I believe should be included in this one. I can not get an answer from the animal control board or assmebly on why they’re not. Maybe you would have better luck.

  4. The current ordinance is defective in as much as Ecollars are misidentified as leashes (they are training tools, not leashes) while most dog owners can’t seem to be able to parse the “control by command” provisions.

    I have repeatedly suggested that the addition of a Rockville style certification program as a way to define effective control by command to the proposed amendments would address a good deal of the confusion.

    • I assume that would involve some identifier required on the dog? Otherwise, just as with all licensing, if there is no incident there will be no way to tell if someone is in compliance or not (unless law enforcement will be doing random checks) until after an incident has occurred.

      Licensing is great, but it is magical thinking to believe it will have any statistical impact on prevention. Just as in driving licenses, the people who aren’t the problem aren’t problems with or without licensing, and the people who are the problem won’t bother getting/maintaining licenses as they are already irresponsible even without a license requirement.

      All any licensing or registration regime does is give one more tool for punishment after the fact, after the harm has been done, which may or may not have any specific or general deterrent effect depending on the penalty and the perceived risk of being caught. And, in that regard, scofflaws and the irresponsible aren’t generally the most rationally calculating kind of people.

  5. Additions to the “known unknowns” is the volume (and expense) of “dog-on-dog” injuries caused by unleashed dogs, and the unquantified psychological trauma to small children that are jumped on by “friendly” unleashed dogs. My home across from a park entrance gives me an opportunity to see numerous, almost daily examples of irresponsible pet management. And “voice control”? Apparently this means finally getting your pet’s attention after yelling/swearing at them for 5 minutes to stop chewing on that leashed Yorkie or harassing that intriguing moose calf (someday some pissed off Momma moose is going to stomp an innocent 3rd party down the trail because of this.) The proposed leash law at least addresses a real need, particularly in the heavily used suburban/urban public spaces.

    • Heartily agree with you on that last observation: “particularly in the heavily used suburban/urban public spaces.”

      But wouldn’t designating these places and then signing them be more effective than a muni-wide requirement for leashes as if every newby to Anchorage reads the muni code?

      • Agreed that any even incremental improvement is worthwhile. Because the population that causes the problems essentially doesn’t give a shit, prevention is only one goal; establishing that the owner of an off-leash dog causing problems is clearly, legally the responsible party gives victims a tool for starting redress.

  6. This is what happens, when large numbers of outsiders move to Alaska. Foe the Alaskan experience, the first thing they want to do. Is change Alaska to what they left. Controlling all aspects of the citizens. To conform to their desires! BS Ngo back south and take a couple of order dreamers with you!

  7. Craig,
    Anyone that considers Anchorage real estate to be “wilderness” or “near wilderness” needs to explore more of this state.
    Sure there are mountains & wild forest settings but having your car parked at a trailhead a few miles away does not equate with wilderness IMO.
    Until I get about 60 to 90 miles away from the road system, I do not feel that I am in wilderness in Alaska and even then you can be surprised by a small airplane or intrepid traveler when you least expect it.

    • whoa, whoa, whoa. if you’re going to define Alaska wilderness as free of the sight of airplanes, there’s not going to be much we can define as Alaska wilderness.

  8. Craig have you read the current ordnances for the municipality of anchorage concerning pets and leashes? What is really going to change, that already exists in code? You can have all the probations you want, but without enforcement you same thing at the end of the day.

  9. As Craig pointed out, the very first thing you need to do before solving a problem is to figure out if you have one.

    Assuming there is a problem, the question becomes what to do about it. Choices fall in 3 general categories:

    – More government
    – Less government
    – Figure out something that does not require government

    Here in ANC, the ongoing cramdown of stuff by the mayor and Assembly over the last several years has gotten to the point where the general public has all but quit listening to them on everything. Do we really want them to cram more stuff down our own collective throats? Mayor and Assembly demand the same general public that is ignoring them and floating recall petitions aimed at them as fast as they can write the petitions do something to solve a problem that has yet to be defined. That’ll work well (/sarc). Perhaps the correct path is to get them out of the way entirely and let the public figure out how to solve the problem.

    Final point: Moose don’t much like dogs. There is a small and completely undefined problem of dog-triggered moose attacks. Cheers –

  10. Well if nothing else a move toward restraining your own pets in the Anchorage area would be a relief to trappers who are tired of hearing pet owners whining about their loose dog getting into their trap sets. Maybe Chugach State Park would even consider jumping on the bandwagon?

    • Chugach State Park, lies with in the municipality and have to comply to the ordnances, currently.

    • Akoutdoor, are you trapping in the municipality? Using communal routes or trails? Trapping near residential towns ,homes or along roads ? Dont you think that’s pretty cheesy? Especially if you are talking snares or foot holds. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. If You know its a residential area, Its very irresponsible of you to trap with methods that can catch pets. Its also inhuman not to consider the social effect on children of injuries or death to their family pet . Alaska has plenty room for trappers to trap without using the back yard to the largest population in alaska . Anchorage matsu or other population centers . Do you mark your trapline ? Flag it with information every quarter mile or so ? A lot of trappers go to great efforts to develop trapline trails completely separate from standard travel routes. Many of the old time trappers put signage and postings regarding use of the trapline when it was established and even phone number or name / contact information. Families or individuals would effectively own a route or line for generations and it became common knowledge that specific trails were primarily for trapline. Not for standard use . Perhaps you could take a page out of responsable trappers book and do similar. Make your own trail . Calling pet owners whiney when their Freind gets injured in an un marked trap is inhuman. Maybe you should upgrade your system.

      • Dread Pirate Roberts, let me make sure I’m following you. When the muni shoved an ordinance down our throats with zero research and zero data to “protect” dogs from traps under the guise of public safety, that was O.K? But now that they want to shove an ordinance with a little research and some data to protect dogs and people from other dogs under the guise of public safety, that’s a call for outrage? Point is if trappers are going to be unconstitutionally (state) regulated by the muni on public lands, it’s time that dog owners bear some of the burden as well. In high use public areas the different user groups need to respect each other which means responsible trap placement as well as responsible dog ownership.

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