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Why I Like Leash Laws

The downside of free-roaming dogs
By Kathleen St. John, April 2011, Updated June 2021

Last week, the Denver Police Department and Animal Care and Control held a friendly press conference reminding dog owners to keep their pets leashed, or face fines of at least $80.

The conference was held at Cheesman Park, the city’s favorite place to illegally let dogs run loose. Hilariously, a man let his dog cavort, leashless, on the lawn during the press conference, apparently unaware of exactly who was gathered at the park—until a couple officers started heading his way. (He got off with a warning.)
There was no real news at the conference. No laws have changed. It was just a springtime reminder to dog owners that they should only let dogs go leashless in designated dog parks.
It probably won’t change matters much, but I’m happy the city is making an effort. As the owner of a dog-aggressive dog in a canine-filled city, anything that keeps pups on leashes is fine by me.
My husband and I got Daisy from a shelter almost four years ago. She’s a mutt who looks like a miniature wolf, or a blonde fox, and is often mistaken for a Shiba Inu. She is sweet, loving and probably the cuddliest dog I’ve ever met—when she’s around humans. But the mere sight of another dog sends her into a defensive rage.
They warned us about it at the shelter. When we took her on a get-to-know-you walk, we saw how she pulled mightily on her lead when she spied another dog. At the time, she seemed so small and cute that it wasn’t a big deal. We were so wrong.
After adding on about 15 pounds of healthy weight—she was terribly skinny in the shelter—Daisy got back to fighting strength. And she was ready to throw down. In a neighborhood filled with leashless, laid-back Labs and Frisbee-loving Aussie shepherds, Daisy was like Tony Soprano arriving on a hippie commune.
Everything about Daisy’s communication with other dogs says, “Eff you.” She walks with her head erect and ears pointed skyward, her chest puffed out. Her tail, usually long and straight, curls up over her back. When she detects another dog in the area, even if it’s just a distant bark, her hackles go up and she begins to huff and puff. When a dog comes into sight and moves closer, she starts to thrash and snarl, trying vainly to run at the other dog. Every dog, no matter how small, large or docile, is seen as a threat.
We tried seeing a trainer—it was expensive, and the trainer herself wasn’t a good fit. If we had more money, we’d go to a professional behaviorist. I’ve read books and articles. I’ve tried to sit in Cheesman Park with Daisy and feed her treats when dogs, often off-leash, appear. She refuses the treats, and her breathing becomes ragged and shallow as her rage turns into fear.
It’s a sad situation, but we do our best. Daisy has a couple of dog-pals she can play with at relatives’ houses. We avoid the dogs we see on walks, as it seems a large part of Daisy’s anxiety comes from her leash. What’s frustrating, though, is when a leashless dog comes running at Daisy, full of cheerful intentions, and I hear the owner absently call, “It’s OK, he’s friendly.” To which I respond, “Yes, but my dog isn’t.” By this point Daisy is lunging and growling at the other dog, who’s often puzzled, but sometimes offended and angered. And then we have a potential dogfight on our hands.
I understand the desire to let a dog off-leash. I might understand it more than anyone, since I have a dog who loves to run but can’t be let go in public. Still, leashes don’t exist just to be a buzzkill—they’re an important safety tool. I wish more people remembered that.


Kathleen St. John is a freelance writer for target The Denver Post and The Onion's A.V. Club, and a lifelong dog lover. She lives in Denver, Colo., with her husband, John, and her dog, Daisy, who's a mix of just about everything.