Changes May Be Coming to East Lansing’s Leash Law

Tuesday, January 14, 2020, 7:45 am
By: 
Patty Bonito

Above: A pooch named Evelyn running in the Northern Tail Dog Park in July 2019. (Photo by Raymond Holt)

Should East Lansing residents be allowed to walk their dogs within the City limits without physical leashes if they use electronic leashes?

Mayor Ruth Beier doesn’t think so, and she is asking City Council to consider an ordinance to require that all dogs to be in control on a physical leash “upon any public sidewalk, street, or any other public property” except in any designated dog park.

Council is set to take up the matter at its meeting on January 21.

Currently, there are two sections of the City Code that address dogs and leashes, and they seem to contradict.

One exists in the portion of the Code dealing with “keeping domestic animals and fowl; feeding stray cats; leashes for dogs.” That currently states that, within City limits, dogs must be held by a person with a leash or electric leash except as may be otherwise permitted by park rules.

The other, which appears in the portion of the Code regulating Parks and Recreation, specifically governs dogs in parks. That currently states, “No dogs are permitted in any park unless on a leash that does not exceed eight feet in length held by a responsible person. Dogs in violation of this section may be impounded and the owner shall be in violation of this Code.”

So the first seems to allow electronic leashes, while the second appears not to allow them because it requires a physical leash.

Beier is looking to clear this up by clearly requiring physical leashes in all public places, except designated dog parks (of which the City currently has one: the Northern Tail Dog Park).

What exactly is an electronic leash?

“Electric leash is not defined by the Code,” Erin Housefield, an attorney in the office of City Attorney Tom Yeadon, told ELi.

But, Housefield says, it is her office’s opinion that the phrase “electronic leash” refers to a device worn on the animal’s collar and connected wirelessly to a device held by a person walking the dog.

With these devices, if the person controlling the dog presses a button on a remote-control device, the dog receives an electric shock through the collar. The dog must be trained to respond to the shock, and the person must be trained to use it, to be effective.

Electronic leashes may allow for greater freedom for the animal. But if “the responsible person is not monitoring the dog or is too far away to activate the device, then the person may cited as if the dog is unleashed,” Housefield said.

If the ordinance change Beier seeks goes through, dogs being walked will have to be on physical leashes and not electronic leashes.

“It is something I have been hearing about more and more lately,” Beier said in an email to ELi. “It also came up at the Council of Neighborhood Presidents meeting” in November, shortly after Beier was elected Mayor of East Lansing.

At that meeting, Beier, a dog owner, said that she believes electronic leashes are both cruel and ineffective. She also noted it is difficult for a passer-by to know if a dog is being controlled by someone else on an electronic leash.

She said she saw the change in the law as necessary to protecting both dogs and people.

City Council will accept public comment on this (or any) issue at its meetings during the designated “communications” portion of meetings. This particular issue will be discussed at the January 21 meeting which begins at 7 p.m. in City Hall’s second floor courtroom. Written comments can be sent to council@cityofeastlansing.com.

Alice Dreger contributed reporting from the Council of Neighborhood Presidents meeting.

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