Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - December 13, 2006

Editorial: Leash laws need full enforcement

Shocking attack at a busy schoolyard urgently underscores need for more effective, serious enforcement of existing laws on dog control

With shocking ferocity, a 3-year-old mixed-breed dog attacked a 5-year-old boy, Sean Martin, leaving severe wounds on the back of his neck and causing severe trauma to the boy, his family and others.

The dog was scheduled to be euthanized at the owner's request Tuesday.

The boy's father, Greg Martin, correctly assesses the attack as potentially fatal -- had his young son fallen on his back exposing his throat instead of face down. ...

Heroic efforts to pull the dog off the boy by Sean's two older brothers, other Cub and Boy Scouts and several adults, including the dog's owner, very likely saved his life at a time when seconds counted. The dog's owner expressed chagrin over the attack and said it was the first time either of his two dogs had done anything like that. He had unleashed his dogs inside an enclosed play area at Hoover, and the dogs attacked when a boy opened the gate to the area.

Yet the hard and painfully obvious fact remains that the attack should never have occurred. For one thing, an off-leash area in a city dog park is not far from Hoover Elementary School, where the attack occurred. Otherwise, clearly the dogs should have been on leashes, according to the city's leash law and basic common sense -- as numerous entries on Town Square, the community discussion forum at www.PaloAltoOnline.com, have pointed out.

The incident is the second serious dog attack in Palo Alto in recent months. Last August, a woman leading a small dog got too close to a woman with three pit bulls on leashes and the little dog was killed by one of the three dogs at the corner of a busy intersection along Middlefield Road in south Palo Alto.

The Weekly at the time (Aug. 30) editorialized that while it was important for owners of aggressive dogs or breeds to have special training: "Off-leash dogs, even gentle ones, trigger reasonable concern and sometimes acute anxiety when they come trotting or running down the street to greet your dog, or run up to your child.

"Even the approach of a friendly dog in itself can become a kind of emotional assault to some people. ...

"It's the city's ultimate responsibility to make sure that its streets and public areas are both actually safe and feel safe to everyone."

The same goes for school grounds, parks, baylands and foothills areas and anywhere else open to the public and children.

But police and animal-control officers can't do it alone -- they need public back-up.

It's everyone's responsibility not to ignore a leash-law violation when one is observed. Individuals should either ask the owner to leash their animals or report the violation to the police. In this case, there was a nearly week-long delay in reporting the severe attack because it did not flag the attention of police officials. It was only when Martin informed the Weekly of the attack in an e-mail that word spread community-wide.

Yet Martin said it best and most powerfully in concluding a posting on Town Square: "So, for everyone out there with a dog, pit bull or otherwise, that thinks your dog is 'special' and the leash laws don't apply to you, I urge you to think again and keep your dog on a leash when you are in public."

"Had you heard the screams of pain from my son as they were stitching him up, taking x-rays and such, it might have convinced you that the leash laws are there for a reason and no matter how special your dog is, you aren't above the law."

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