With humans, this law won't bark

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Esther Cepeda
Monday, February 21, 2011
— Let me tell you the story of a vicious dog attack.

It was a beautiful June evening, during a nightly stroll around the neighborhood. Spotting a family of four up ahead, my husband and I decided to yield the east side of the street to the pack, which included a mom pushing a baby in a stroller, a young girl trailing behind a big, white Samoyed and dad with a large, leashed Boxer.

Crossing the street, our two tiny Chihuahuas started yapping. We watched as the white ball of fur hurled itself toward us with such might that the girl who had, until that moment, been in charge of its leash was pulled to the sidewalk face-first with what looked like skull-cracking force.

As her mother started screaming, her dad rushed toward us with their increasingly agitated Boxer. I'd managed to get one of my dogs up into my arms but the Boxer arrived on the scene in time to bite the hindquarters of my other pet who was flailing two feet in the air, unwilling to release the attacking dog's increasingly bloody lip.

Expecting to see either my husband's arm or my entire dog mauled, I backed off as the two men got the animals separated. After making sure the girl was OK and that all dogs were relatively intact, we walked away thankful that the terrifying incident didn't end in tragedy.

We went home and had a sober discussion with our two sons about why the 9-year-old was no longer permitted to walk the dogs by himself. We also spent time discussing exactly what to do if we or our 12-year-old ever encountered an aggressive dog in our neighborhood again -- adequate precautions for living in a world where safety can never be guaranteed.

This frightening memory leaped to mind last week when I read reports about a proposed law in Manassas, Va., where town leaders are considering a requirement that anyone walking a dog be a responsible person physically capable of restraining the animal.

The only consequence of the law so far mentioned could be animal sterilization, presumably because "fixed" dogs are calmer. But being spayed didn't stop my dog from nearly ripping the face off her attacker.

If I lived in Manassas, I'd be glad leaders were actively discussing the problem of unruly dogs and their clueless owners, but laughing at the town's futile attempt.

The more stringent leash law may be a great idea on paper and might give the town some tiny measure of legal cover in the event of a real tragedy, but the council is naively hoping for the impossible. What law could ever make people accept full responsibility for the behavior and consequences of both their pets and the people walking them?

Of all people, those lawmakers should know the unfortunate reality of our modern life: you can't legislate good sense.

Esther Cepeda's e-mail address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

Last updated: 4:15 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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