Dogged problem

Ready to runble!/Craig medred photo

Call for Anchorage leash law rising again

Summer has come to Alaska’s largest city; local trails are busy with Anchoragites; and dogs are once again rivaling the now Portlandesque problem of the homeless as the argument of the day.

Some people think their dogs no different than children and prefer to let them run wild. Some people fear dogs too much and cower at the sight of them. And sometimes, dogs being dogs, the animals can make themselves a problem for everyone no matter the human opinion of canines.

Two years ago – amid horror stories about dogs attacking people and dogs attacking other dogs – the Anchorage Municipal Assembly considered an ordinance that would have required all dogs be on a leash when in public places in the city.

Anchorage Animal Control officials at the time said they were getting 50 calls a week complaining about loose dogs, many of them aggressive animals.

The city’s volunteer Animal Control Advisory Board held hearings to talk about the problem in the city many from elsewhere in Alaska now consider to have become Los Anchorage, and Michelle Sinnott, the volunteer chair of that group, came away from the hearings with the belief that loose dogs had become a legitimate public safety issue.

The board subsequently recommended a seatbelt-style solution – put a leash on the problem.

The pushback on that idea was immediate and noisy given that the Municipality of Anchorage blankets an area larger than the state of Rhode Island with most of the land in that area undeveloped and wild.

Most dog owners and lovers weren’t buying the public safety issue although the municipality, when questioned about this, did provide some data indicating a problem.

Anchorage’s most dangerous animal?

“From 2016-2020, there were an average of 503 dog bites per year reported to Anchorage Animal Care and Control,” said Tamaih Liebersbach with the city’s Department of Health and Human Services.

Unfortunately, she had no idea of how many of those bites were serious, how many happened on private property or in homes, or – most importantly – how many actually involved unleashed dogs accompanied by their owners on public property where a leash law might make a difference.

Nor could she answer how many of the bites came after dogs escaped their owners, something that sometimes happens.

Liebersbach said at the time that she believed such data existed, but that it would be difficult to gather. She also refused to let a reporter go through the data to try to see if the answers to any of these questions could be found.

She instead offered to have city staff begin looking for the information at a cost of $40 per hour despite a state law stipulating that “the public records of all public agencies are open to inspection by the public under reasonable rules during regular office hours.”

The cost of having her staff do this work was calculated at $6,000 or more.

“It would require staff research and data analysis for upwards of 150 hours in order to collect the 2020 records related to dog bites,” she wrote in an email “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.”

The message ignored what the law requires, but never mind that.

Worse was the failure of Liebersbach or other city staff to provide the assembly with this sort of information so that it might make a realistic assessment of whether there was a problem, how big the problem and what might be done.

Flying blind

Lacking any substantive information to define the scope of a public safety problem, if there was a public safety problem, the assembly was left to listen to dueling pleas from worried constituents:

  • Dog lovers unhappy about the possibility of losing the ability to allow Fido to run wild in the wild, nearly 2,000 square mile vastness of the fourth largest municipality by area in the country when the problem, whatever problem there was, appeared to be focused in an approximately 100-square-mile area known as the Anchorage Bowl and home to nearly all of Anchorage’s nearly 300,000 residents.
  • Parents of bitten children, owners of leashed dogs that had been attacked and injured by unleashed dogs, and those simply fearful – often with good reasons – of unleashed dogs.

Caught between these dueling constituencies, the pols did what pols usually do when there is no obvious majority that can be pleased, they punted.

The proposed leash-law ordinance was allowed to die a quiet death.

The problem created by loose dogs didn’t go away, however, and those problems are rumbling to life again this year on the social-media website Nextdoor with some folks now posting about taking things into their own hands.

“My animal control with aggressive unleashed pets is lethal, just saying, and it’s my right to self-defense just like if it was a human,” a resident of the Sand Lake neighborhood posted there just days ago. “…I’ll enforce myself if needed if I’m being attacked.”

Many others are suggesting they’ll just carry “bear spray” with them on local trails – not for bears, but for loose dogs – with seemingly little understanding of the problems associated with capsicum, the active ingredient in pepper spray.

A highly inflammatory, oil-based extract from chili peppers, it can linger in the air or deposit on nearby vegetation where it can be picked up by pets or people who brush up against it, and it’s nasty stuff if you happen to get it on a hand and subsequently wipe your face anywhere near your eyes.

“When pepper spray comes into contact with a person’s eyes, it causes immediate eye closure, acute eye pain, and temporary blindness,” notes the Medical News Today website. “Some people describe a bubbling or boiling sensation and severe discomfort.”

For many people, a better and more neighborly defense against loose dogs might be any of a variety of stun-gun hiking sticks or canes, or a good, old-fashioned “cattle prod” now marketed as a “stun baton” for dogs.

A problem everywhere

The Anchorage dog “problem,” it must be noted, does not appear unique to Anchorage.

Spokane, Wash. in 2017 passed a law requiring all dogs to be on leash in city parks, and Eugene, Ore. took the extreme step of banning dogs from the downtown area unless they were service animals or belonged to people who lived or worked in the downtown area.

The rule subsequently came under fire for forcing homeless people out of the downtown and was amended to allow any dog for which the owner obtained a city license and proof of vaccination. The homeless were then directed to a non-profit organization that “provides veterinary services to pets of people who are un-housed (and) offers free vaccinations and spay/neuter services at their clinic.” 

Such is Oregon.

Anchorage’s problem would seem most easily resolved with the employment of a little common sense and courtesy on the part of dog owners.

But sense is not common and courtesy is a fading virtue in today’s all-about-me society.

There is, however, a simple regulatory remedy that might make things better. The Anchorage Assembly could require that dogs be leashed when on “pavement or pavements” in the municipality. This would take care of about 90 percent of the problem, given that most of the issues appear to occur on roads and popular paved trails.

Such a regulation would be unfair to cyclists and runners who frequent the city’s paved, multi-use trails with their free-running dogs, but there are plenty of unpaved trails in the municipality where one can run or bike with a dog.

Unfortunately, such a simple solution is probably beyond an Anchorage assembly which, judging from a proposed new bike ordinance, prefers “perfect” solutions no matter how complex, unworkable and doomed to failure.

Not to mention that regulations without enforcement are just so many words on paper, and Alaska’s largest city already seems to have a bounty of regulations that are never enforced.









14 replies »

  1. “……….a state law stipulating that “the public records of all public agencies are open to inspection by the public under reasonable rules during regular office hours…….”
    Got a reference to that law, Craig? I run into agencies hiding information regularly. It happened yet again the other day with ADFG. I’m really tired of it, and I’d like to become a PITA.

    • Good luck and happy hunting. ADF&G is among the state agencies that reguarly doesn’t seem to care what the law says. They hide behind the old incomplete work product dodge, or if the issue is related to commercial fisheries, claim the data might reveal the harvest records of invidual fishermen, who are a protected class.

      fish are the only state resource i know of that you can make money off from in secret.

      • Good info Craig. Do you really think there are only 210 mines including exploring mines? I would think there is that many mines in the central, livingood and manley mining districts.
        I also see the city of Valdez is suing Hillcorp for financial records.
        If you want the information on the Vanek Fishing Company. I guess you need to get an amendment to AS 16.05.815. It is your legislature creating a protected class of citizens.
        I would also add furs/trappers to list of money made on a state resource done in secret.

      • Yes, but a lot of those miners you mention are sport miners. And the Valdez suit involves not how much oil got produced, but how much money was made off that oil. There is a difference.

        The latter, as for fish processing, is revenue made indirectly off a state resource. The former is the actual taking of a state resource for monetary gain. I’d be perfectly happy with the data on catch in the commericial fisheries. How much fishermen make off those sales, I don’t care.

        But who is catching what, where and how mch might provide some insight into how bad (or good) ADF&G is managing state fisheries.

        As for trappers, there probably should be a segment defined as “commercial” with their take publicly disclosed. You’d know how to define that better than me, but a simple number cap on sales would seem appropriate. Do a lot of recreational trappers, to your knowledge, sell more than $10,000 in furs per year?

      • I really don’t disagree with you. But that statute i stated (AS 16.05.815) is why we can’t get that data, which could be valuable, but also could be used unnecessarily abusive. I would agree most trappers (no such thing as a recreational trapping) gross more than $10K a year. Yet when the market is high, there are quite a few than do. Hard to to do at $40 marten and $100 lynx today.

  2. Three times I have had to use Bear Spray on super aggressive canines; all since my daughter was born. Once when I was walking with her and her friend, a Lab approached and growled deeply and kept advancing even after we stepped off the trail. I yelled at it, and it only became more aggressive. Another time, my daughter and I had a Pitbull confront us in an alley behind one of my rentals. The last time, a Rothweiler wouldn’t leave the fenced yard of a rental when the renter left the gate open. She was afraid to let her kids out to play. I opened the 12-foot gate in the back yard and tried to usher the dog out, but it became aggressive. All three times, the dogs had no collars and responded well to a short burst of bear spray. I’ve often thought how two of the dogs are infamous, yet the Lab is considered a kid friendly pet.

    A friend of mine’s 5-year-old son was killed by a husky that lived a mile away from the incident. It literally came out of the woods and killed him with no prior interaction. There were many kids playing in the yard. Why he was singled out is unknown.

  3. Count me in the pro leash category, but I’m in the Matsu not Anchorage. Dog feces on trails, paved and public. Unleashed dogs running up to you, sometimes jumping up, or giving a playful “nip” to your hand; owner is not even in sight. Eventually you hear the owner calling “fido, fido, come” repeatedly and the dog is absolutely ignoring them and certainly not trained to come when called.

    I always compliment owners of well behaved dogs, stay close to owner, owner has bags and picks up poop. Unfortunately, I doubt that represents 1% of dog owners.

  4. The last time i read the municipality of Anchorages leash ordnance, it already states all dogs must remain on a leash, unless you are participating in a sanctioned AKA event such as hunting, field trials, competitions and so on. Read the ordnance carefully and be sure to read the definitions per that section, they are very important.

    • Frank, the definitions are indeed very important, and they basically negate the leash requirement. To wit:

      “Control of an animal by command is allowed if the animal is engaged in
      an activity that precludes it from accomplishing that activity if restrained,
      and the animal is in an area normally associated with that activity, and the
      activity is conducted in a manner that minimizes impact with the general

      Given there is no list of approved “activities” that are allowed, the loophole is huge. You can turn Fido loose to “get his needed exercise,” exercise being an “activity,” and as long as Fido is under control by “command”….

      Well, you get the picture.

      “Control by command means to control an animal by visual or audible
      commands, or a combination thereof, to which the animal responds
      promptly and accurately.”

      But, again, “promptly,” another wishy-washy word in the ordinance, isn’t defined. Is that five seconds or five minutes? The first call or the 10th call?

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