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Are Chicago Dog Owners Heeding Leash Law?

A pet owner playing with his dogs at Montrose Beach Park.
Pet owners flout leash law at public parks.

A number of recent dog attacks prompted City Clerk Susana Mendoza to push for a resolution co-sponsored by Alderman Robert Fioretti in January calling for a review of the city’s leash law.

Arieo Ronan.
Arieo Ronan.

“We have to examine the current law and insure appropriate measures are taken to hold dog owners accountable and promote public safety,” Mendoza said in a press release.

The city reported 2,000 animal attacks last year.

The city law, Municipal Code 7-12-140, requires that dog owners register their dogs with the city and keep the animal on a leash outside of their properties. The registration fee for a sterilized dog is $5 and $50 for an unsterilized dog.

However, the number of dog attacks during the past few weeks calls into question whether some dog owners are hearing the city’s message about keeping their pets on a leash.

Just a few weeks ago, a man had his nose bitten off by his neighbor’s pit bull. A off-leash pit bull owned by an off-duty Chicago police officer killed a dog at Montrose Beach Park in March. And in January, two pit bulls attacked a jogger in a South Side park.

Jen Mackenzie.
Jen Mackenzie.

The City Clerk’s office said that of the 500,000 dogs in the city, only 50,000 are registered. Mendoza’s spokesperson Kristine Williams said getting dogs registered is not about merely collecting a tax. It’s also about making sure your dog gets vaccinated. Plus, sterilized dogs are healthier and less likely to attack, run away or fight with other animals.

“It’s a public health and safety issue,” Williams said in an interview at her office.

Dog registration is required to enter the Park District’s dog-friendly areas. It is also required for dogs that stay in boarding and daycare facilities.

Joggers and pets.
Dog owners need permission to enter public parks.

A violator could face a $300 fine. And if the violation results in death or injury to any person, the fine could jump up to $1,000 or $10,000. Violators could also face a six-month prison term, or 100 hours community service.

However, many dog owners say they always keep their dogs on leash in neighborhoods.

“When we walk, always,” said Arieo Ronan, a dog owner in Montrose Beach Park, who said he lets his white Huskie off-leasoh “only when the dog pees.”

Jen Mackenzie, who owns an adopted dog, is concerned about unleashed dogs because they make her dog react aggressively.

“And there’s nothing that I can do to stop the dog off the leash,” she said.

The City Clerk’s Office works with the Chicago Police Department to promote leashing. It doesn’t deal in enforcement.

“We just promote registration,” Williams said.

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