Sounding Off: Rude dog owners flout the law

Thanks to Chris Epting for his recent column ("Keep your dogs safe — on a leash," In the Pipeline, Feb. 24). I like dogs, and most dog owners I know are very responsible, but as Epting discovered, some are not. This problem is widespread, and the solutions are elusive.

This problem occurs not only on the Brightwater trail, but all over town. Numerous unleashed dogs roam school grounds and other public areas.

One example is Harbour View Park and the grounds adjacent to Harbour View Elementary School. This usually occurs in the late afternoon and on the weekends, and the "No Dogs Allowed" signs are blatantly ignored. Unleashed dogs roaming there frighten people using the playing fields, and children who use the fields risk being bitten and sickened by the urine and fecal matter.

Two possible solutions include stepped-up enforcement by the Police Department, or the City Council significantly raising the fines. Both solutions would be a source of revenue for our city in these cash-strapped times.

Another possible solution is for dog owners to fully appreciate the potentially devastating risks to their freedom and financial security. Dog owners have been convicted and jailed as the result of their dogs attacking others. In the civil justice system, jurors can be very sympathetic toward victims of animal attacks, and very generous in their awards.

If a dog without prior aggressive tendencies attacks someone, the owner is still liable for the consequences. As a personal injury attorney, I know that dogs are not entitled to "one free bite." And even if a dog doesn't bite, if a victim is injured while attempting to escape, the dog's owner is liable.

Unfortunately, this problem can't be eliminated by issuing tickets, raising fines, jailing or suing people, or even by attempting to educate people, as Epting learned. The core problem is that those who knowingly break the leash laws don't respect our laws, our society nor the safety or welfare of others. The indignant replies to Epting reveal this "entitlement" mentality — "I can act however I want, no matter what the rules are, and no matter who is harmed." That attitude makes this a difficult problem to solve.

Those who let their dogs run illegally unleashed might change their attitude if they could experience what an animal attack victim and his/her family does. If they could experience the brutality and viciousness of the attack. If they could feel the pain of emergency treatment and the many reconstructive surgeries some victims endure. If they awoke to the nightmares and continually relived the emotional pain of the attack. If they had to endure the scarring on their bodies for the rest of their lives. If they could imagine the pain of having their child, spouse, parent or other loved one attacked.

Only then might they decide to place a higher value on human suffering than on allowing their dogs to run unrestrained.

MIKE PALIKAN is a Huntington Beach resident.

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