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CAC member takes lead in leash-law battle

District 5 rep petitions city to clarify law that requires only 'direct control' of pets

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Susan Dlouhy let her dog, a 1-year-old labradoodle named Bailey, off her leash by the Whetstone Park baseball fields after an outing several weeks ago.

She won't be doing that again.

"She's been off-leash before when there's nobody around," the nine-year resident of Clintonville said. "She ran up to this other dog, and this dog hunkered down, some kind of little terrier, a mutt kind of thing. I didn't get a very good look."

A man and woman were with the terrier, as well as a Great Dane, both of them off their leashes.

"It happened within 10 seconds of them coming face to face," Dlouhy said. "The (terrier) just immediately attacked her."

Bailey sustained what's called a "degloving wound," in which a section of skin about four inches long was torn from the tissue underneath. It took 12 to 15 stitches to close, Dlouhy said, and cost between $600 and $700 for emergency treatment at the Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center.

"The thing that disturbed me the most is the owner made no attempt to come over and say, 'Hey, what can we do?' " recalled Dlouhy, who owns a consulting firm for nonprofit organizations that support people with disabilities. "They just put it on leash and left the park. You know your dog is not safe around other dogs and yet you let it off leash. I can't believe how many people let their dogs off leash in that park."

As a result of incidents such as the attack on Bailey, Clintonville Area Commission member Dana K.J. Bagwell recently launched an online signature drive to change the city's laws regarding dogs in public places.

"Off-leash dogs have historically been an issue in our city," the District 5 representative wrote in a Facebook posting for her campaign. "Currently, the city code addressing this uses verbiage that is relative and confusing."

The law now requires only that dogs be "under direct control," meaning they would come and stay when called.

"We are respectfully requesting that this section of city code be rewritten so as to prohibit dogs from being allowed to run off-leash in public, including our public parks, with an exception being made for enclosed dog parks," Bagwell wrote. "If the new law would save even one dog or child from being hurt or killed, it would be worth your time to address it."

Dlouhy, in the wake of the experience of seeing her beloved dog sustain severe injuries, supports Bagwell's effort -- but only up to a point.

"My whole thing is, I'm all for stricter leash laws, but I don't want our city police saddled with the job of enforcing it," she said. "I think it should be the owners. If you're going to own a dog, you need to be responsible for it."

Bagwell's online posting predictably drew responses from across the spectrum, including people who related stories of attacks by off-leash dogs to those who say their dogs are fine and have the most fun running with others in the park.

The Columbus Dispatch ran an editorial Dec. 5 favoring stricter leash laws, saying the "under direct control" status quo "clearly isn't good enough."

"This city needs a leash law, and now," the editorial stated. "Columbus is one of the few big cities and central Ohio communities that doesn't have one.

"Leaving the loophole of 'direct control' puts the public at risk, and dogs, too, because leash laws protect pets as much as people. Dogs are animals and, therefore, unpredictable."

Bailey received excellent care at OSU, Dlouhy said, and seems to show no after-effects from the incident.

"They (the staff) just did a phenomenal job," she said. "We're not even going to know there was an injury there when it's all healed up.

"She's fine around other dogs. She still wants to play. I think it happened so quick she didn't realize what it was."

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