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Leash Laws in Sonoma County - by Debra A. Newby

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Leash Laws in Sonoma County 

by Debra A. Newby

DEAR READERS: Do you have a legal question on your mind? If so, please email me. Your name will remain confidential. This Q & A Legal Column is intended as a community service to discuss general legal principles and does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Dear Debra:

I live in the country and my neighbors walk their dogs along my property line. Their dogs are not leashed, so they run onto my property, exciting my dog. I have posted “No Trespassing” signs, to no avail. Is there anything else I can do? 

Signed: Fed-Up Frances

Dear Frances:

It’s been a few years since I’ve addressed the “leash laws” in Sonoma County. Given the fact that Spring is just around the corner, and we are all anxious to embrace the sunshine and stretch our legs (with or without our canine companions), it is a PERFECT time to refresh everyone’s memory on “best practices” for dog owners. 

Not only does it make sense to leash your dog (unless you are on your own private property), but it is the law. Here in Sonoma County, County Ordinance 5-115 clearly states that no person shall allow any dog to run large on public or private property (except the private property of the owner). In essence, the dog must be “restrained by a substantial leash”. Ordinance 5-115 does create six exceptions. The dog need not be leashed if the dog is: 1) assisting law enforcement; 2) assisting in an official search and rescue operation; 3) herding or controlling livestock; 4) assisting with hunting on private property; 5) participating in a dog training class, exhibition, or competition; and/or 6) accompanied by the owner or other person in control of the dog on private property. Also, be aware that some cities have their own leash laws that they enforce within their city limits (like Santa Rosa and Windsor).  

Bottom line: Your neighbors are breaking the law. Now, the more difficult part is finding a solution to your dilemma. One simple idea (yet not always so simple to do) is for you to openly talk to your neighbor(s). Let them know that for the safety of their dog and your neighborhood, a leash must be used. I’d even go so far to print out the law and hand them a copy. Go to www.theanimalshelter.org, managed by the Sonoma County Animal Services, which has a wealth of information, including applicable Ordinances. (Ordinance 20-8 is also fun to look at, which states that dogs must be leashed in city and county parks, unless you are in a dog park.) While you are cruising the website, you might as well also look at Ordinance 5-125, which makes it illegal to not pick up the dog poo, unless you are totally or partially blind, have a hearing impairment, or are handicapped and using an assistance dog. The website also has helpful hints about what to do about barking dogs (and who to call). 

If your neighbors don’t care to read (or follow) the law, what can you do? Well, I guess you will have to kick it up to the next level—enforcement. Here is where it gets a bit tricky. If the infraction/violation of the leash law occurs at one of our beaches, the Park Ranger can issue a citation or ticket. If you are in an unincorporated area of Sonoma County, the official “enforcer” is the Sheriff’s Department. You can also gently remind your neighbors that if they are cited for violating the “leash law”, they will likely need to appear in traffic court. I am not sure of the exact fine, but have been told by an employee of SoCo Animal Services that the court costs and fines may be over $100, perhaps even approaching $200. 

I guess what it really comes down to is responsibility. Yes, I understand that most dog owner’s relish the idea of their “well-behaved dog” running free. I get it. The reality is that there is a time and place for a free-running dog...and it is not the backroads of our beautiful county. 

Debra A. Newby is a resident of Monte Rio and has practiced law for 34 years. She is a member of the California, Texas and Sonoma County Bar Associations and currently maintains an active law office in Santa Rosa which emphasizes personal injury law (bicycle/motorcycle/motor vehicle accidents, dog bites, trip and falls, etc.) and expungements (clearing criminal records). Debra can be reached via email (debra@newbylawoffice.com), phone (707-526-7200), or fax (526-7202).