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As the weather gets nicer, more and more people will be walking their dogs. In every populated area including Charleston and other West Virginia cities, there are Leash Laws. These are laws that require your dog to be on a leash when in public, although each level of legislation has certain nuances and vary in different locations. Some of the laws have an exception that the dog may be under your “voice control” when in certain areas. This means that your dog is trained to obey your vocal commands, which even if true, usually is not a given when in new and stressful situations. You’d be in violation of the leash law if you dog did not obey your command. My dogs Sadie and Rusty are extremely well behaved dogs, but often ignore me even in our own yard. I’d never trust that they would heed my call if danger was imminent or forgive myself if they were harmed by my negligence.
West Virginia Code Chapter 19 Article 20 contains the state leash law. This law varies in different counties and cites as to how restrictive it is and what the consequences are for breaking it. One section of the code gives county commissions the power to write ordinances to enforce the law in their county.
WV Code §19-20-6 states: “ That the county commissions may promulgate and enforce such ordinances, rules and regulations to the extent necessary for the implementation of the provisions contained in this article.” Additionally each city council may add its own restrictions and additional fines and punishments to this article. That’s why it’s important to know what specific law governs where you reside with your dog. Cats are not subject to leash laws.
West Virginia has an interesting statute pertaining only to the State Capitol grounds. West Virginia Code §5A-4-4 states that it “shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly allow a dog owned by him to be upon the grounds of the capitol buildings or governor’s mansion unless such dog is under control by leash.” Sadie loves to chase squirrels and the capitol grounds are a dog’s paradise for squirrel chases, but so far she has not broken free and ran “at large” while there. I have held her leash tightly and been dragged me into numerous squirrel chases.
Leash laws prohibit dogs “running at large.” This means your dog is not on a leash while in a public area where the law is in effect. Some public areas are exempt from leash laws in other cities under certain conditions. They include certain public parks, designated dog parks, and some dog themed public events.
Charleston’s leash law is in the city code at Section 5-4:
“Animals at large prohibited. (a) No person owning or having possession, charge, custody or control of any animal shall cause, permit or allow the animal to stray or in any manner to run at large in or upon any public street, sidewalk, athletic field, athletic facility, or park or upon the property of another, if such animal is not under a physical restraint or a leash so as to allow the animal to be controlled.”
The Charleston city ordinance restricts the leash length to 16 feet. The ordinance also prohibits any animal from being on tennis courts, fenced recreation or athletic fields at any time even if leashed or voice controlled. There’s a presumption in the law that your dog wasn’t in compliance of the law if they destroy or damage property, attack or threatens someone, stray onto private property or is a nuisance in any way. You would be with violation of the leash law and responsible for any damages.
Both the City of Huntington and Cabell County unincorporated areas are subject to leash laws. Huntington City Code 507.03 – (a) provides that dog owners must keep their dog under restraint at all times.
Leash law violations are misdemeanors with fines and community service for infractions. However, in all jurisdictions, multiple violations can result in higher fines up to $500.00 and jail time.
Leash laws serve a valuable purpose for your dog. Don’t think of these laws as restrictive; think of them as a lifeline. People have the right not to be confronted by loose dogs when in public, and responsible Pet Parents have the right to walk their dog without fear of an attack by a loose dog. Obeying leash laws keeps your dog safe and protects others:
1. Keeps your dog safe from traffic. According to The Pet Tech (www.thepettech.com ) Approximately1.2 million dogs and over 5.4 million cats are killed on the roads each year.
2. Keeps your dog safe from other dogs. Most dog attacks happen when both dogs are unrestrained. Your dog may be friendly, but there is no guarantee the dog you encounter on walks will be.
3. Keep your dog safe from bicycles and from causing a bicyclist accident. Dogs are attracted to the spinning wheels of a bicycle and will often chase it risking harm to themselves and the bike rider.
4. It’s the law. At the risk of stating what should be obvious, we can’t pick and choose which laws to obey.
5. When your dog is under your control on a leash, she’s less likely to get into something she’s not supposed to. When running loose your dog may step into a hole, drink from a polluted water source, or eat something that will harm her. Don’t risk these things happening as they are all potentially fatal.
6. Some people are not physically able to withstand a dog jumping on them, even your friendly dog.
7. People have the right to walk in a public without being confronted by loose dogs.
Be a responsible Pet Parent which includes more than providing food and shelter. Keep your dog safe in all situations which include being leashed in public.

Looking Back and Leaving Behind

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It was a big decision for me and Rodney to come to the beach this year without the dogs. Since Sadie has been my dog the last 13 years, I have only been to the beach once without her and that was the first year she came to be my puppy. We quit coming to Kiawah after that because there were very few dog friendly properties and none of them were ocean front which was our one non-negotiable requirement. Rusty has not been to the beach with us yet, but when two dogs are so much a part of your life, it’s difficult to not think of them constantly when away. I know they are safe and well taken care of…I miss them…it brings back memories of when we first took Sadie to the beach yesterday…but it was actually a dozen years ago.

We’ve had some changes and challenges lately and wanted to celebrate our anniversary the way it all began for us…just the two of us on our first beach trip. So it was a difficult decision, but we agreed together and here we are…dogless at the beach.

When it became apparent 12 years ago that Sadie would be part of all our beach trips, we started travelling to new beaches, mostly in North Carolina which seemed more dog-friendly and we began staying in quite different accommodations than we’d been used to as a single couple. Rodney and I weren’t used to sparing any expense on vacation.  We began saving money every January for our fall vacation. That was our one time a year for us to spurge, live on the beach for a week in a condo we couldn’t afford to own…but for a week, it was ours and we enjoyed it.

Beautiful kitchens, walk-in closets that swallowed up the few clothes we’d bring for a week, numerous televisions because we rarely wanted to watch the same thing, and most of all…big balconies on the ocean where we would spend hours looking up the beach…and down the beach. Except for one run down condo one year that we chose to put clean sheets over all the furniture and tough it out because we loved the view, we were used to living in very nice luxury that one week a year.

So we made our first dog friendly reservation and took off to Oak Island, North Carolina. We’d found a small house right on the beach with a back yard, a large porch facing the ocean on the first floor and another deck facing the ocean on the top floor. And they not only allowed dogs, the owners LOVED dogs.

We found our little wooden house and just stood and looked at it. This was no luxury hi-rise like we’d been used to.  Sadie whined and barked from the back seat of the convertible while Rodney and I looked for an elevator that didn’t exist. Oh well, maybe the steps weren’t so steep and we began to lug our stuff up the steps to the door at the top where there was an outside light hanging on two wires, Funny, neither of us said a word after a quick glance at each other, and Rodney unlocked the door and we went in.

There was a nice welcome gift on the wooden kitchen table for Sadie with gourmet treats from a local pet shop, a water Frisbee, a beach towel, and three tennis balls.  She was happy to nose through the basket and began playing with one of the balls. We looked for the basket we were used to getting with a nice bottle of wine, cheese, crackers and fruit…it was not there.

The kitchen was small…no fancy appliances…no icemaker…no breakfast bar. Just clean and neat and serviceable. On the floor were two new dog bowls welcoming Sadie. As we proceeded to the living room the furniture was older and obviously has seen many ocean guests. There was one television and one in the master bedroom.

The tour didn’t get much better. Upstairs wasn’t much better with one room full of bunk beds and one with a sagging double bed and an old TV. Two very small standard bathrooms…no Jacuzzi…no steam shower…no walk in closet. As Rodney and I toured the house without speaking, I was thinking “how will I stay here a week,” I believe he was thinking, “how will I control both televisions to see all the football games,” and Sadie was running around in absolute delight.

We walked out on the porch and the view was amazing. We were right on the ocean…just down a few steps…out through the path in the back yard which joined the walk to the beach boardwalk. As Sadie was tugging and whining on her leash, I kicked my shoes off and ran down the steps with her, over the path, and to the beach.

Sadie was furiously sniffing the sand and I was watching the blue/green waves crashing on the shore when it happened. Sadie stopped moving and she stopped sniffing. She walked very slowly to the edge of the water and she sat down facing the ocean. She just sat and looked for what seemed the longest time. She turned and ran to me jumping up and down, twirling around, standing on her hind legs and pawing me. Obviously, Sadie loved the ocean as we did.

A few seagulls landed by us and she was startled and hid behind my legs. A group of long- legged sandpipers came leisurely past us and Sadie was immediately on ready alert. She paused and began slowly following them…then she looked at me and I nodded my head and she was off. This was her first bird chase and for a new Dog Mom…it was a moment of pride and wonder I will never forget.

After chasing more birds, gathering a few shells, we returned to our beach house and met Rodney on the back porch binoculars in hand. He had been watching us. Sadie ran joyfully up to him wriggling as she did when excited to “tell” him all about it. Then she went and took a long drink from the bowl of water he’d placed on the deck for her

We didn’t say anything, but stood with our arms around each other looking at the lovely beach as the sun sank lower. Sadie soon joined us laying across our feet and left out a contented sigh. We looked at each other and just knew…we were a family now and this is how it should be.  Transitions happen in life sometimes so naturally and quietly that you just know that you have moved on to a different phase of life and it is a good thing No one should be left behind unless absolutely necessary. We needed to be together…where there was room for all of us and all of us were welcome. As for the television battle, Sadie and I discovered a very dog friendly town where we could shop together which in all the world sure is better than football!

Later this year, four of us will be back here at Kiawah. Rusty will share his wonder of the beach with us and we will again feel that transition that we are four who must be together. Accommodations that welcome dogs have changed so that when we come back we will have all those creature comforts we gave up for many years to have Sadie with us. But we will never give up these precious living creatures that are our fur children. Looking back…it’s been a great journey together…leaving behind…yes…some things in life will be left behind as time goes on, but I am not ready for that…not now.






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“If you love your dog, this is the most important book you’ll ever read. It just inspired me to make provisions for my pets so they are protected in any and every circumstances.”

—Jane Velez-Mitchell, New York Times bestselling author and editor of JaneUnChained.com


“This book belongs on every dog owner’s bookshelf. Don’t let the title fool you; it covers far more than divorce. In the talented hands of Patti Lawson, Esq., who is both a dog owner and an astute attorney, it covers every possible legal issue a dog owner might encounter. From dog bites to what to do if you see a dog who is abused or neglected, Lawson lays it out in easy-to-read, almost lyrical prose.”

Darlene Arden, certified animal behavior consultant, author of Rover, Get Off Her Leg


“Divorce is tough no matter what the circumstances, but add a dog to the mix and the responsibility and angst for couples or families is emotionally devastating and challenging. This is an absolute must-read for any pet owner who may be facing this life-altering event.”

Abby Finer, television producer and author


“Even the best-behaved dog can quickly find itself in a world of trouble. This book offers insight on how to best handle such situations from a legal perspective and, perhaps more importantly, practical advice on how to avoid them in the first place.”

Joe Simon, Esq.


“Filled with useful and practical advice to protect your dog. A should-read for any dog owner.”

Richard Bruce Rosenthal, Esq., general counsel for the Lexus Project

She Sleeps

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Sadie, my dog is in her usual position at the end of our king-sized bed. She’s stretched across the entire width in a diagonal angle which makes it tricky for me to find my own niche. I haven’t figured out how a medium sized dog can turn into one very long dog at bedtime.

The first night I brought Sadie out of her crate to sleep with me, she was too little to jump up on the bed so I picked her up. She was timid as she sniffed out her new quarters turning around a few times before lying down. Fascinated by the television she scootched on her stomach to watch it and fell asleep. I think she couldn’t believe her good luck at not having to sleep in her crate in the basement, but it had nothing to do with luck and everything to do with that I simply couldn’t stand her barking anymore at night.  That was nine years ago and Sadie has slept with me almost every night since then.

There’s something so peaceful about watching Sadie sleeping…almost tangible. Her presence fills our bedroom with serenity. Sadie goes into a deep and quiet place transcending the room and the house. Wherever she goes in her sleep…it must be a good place.

This particular night as I watch her sleeping…she is tranquil as usual, but I am uneasy listening to her soft breathing. What seems like years ago now, Sadie had been diagnosed with a heart condition. She took medication for almost three years and was pronounced better. No more pills…no more worries…until today.

We’d left very early this morning and made the familiar trip to Virginia Tech Veterinary Hospital. We hadn’t been there since she’d gotten better, but her allergies had gotten the best of both of us so I’d decided to consult an allergy specialist vet. Sadie turned nine this year, so I’d have her cardiologist check her out as well.

I knew something wasn’t right when the cardiologist took the longest time to listen to her heart. She kept moving the stethoscope over Sadie’s body and stroking her back to keep her from moving. When she finished I knew what she was going to say.  The unhealthy sound of Sadie’s heart was back…the arrhythmia…and it could mean a valve wasn’t shutting properly allowing blood to leak into her heart.

Nine years ago, Sadie’s tests revealed she had an arrhythmia in her heart…sort of like pistons misfiring when an engine malfunctions. I wanted to know everything including why and what caused it. There were few answers and even those were speculative. She’d take atenolol, a human medication prescribed for a number of uses, but in Sadie’s case; to hopefully regulate her heartbeat and prevent heart failure. The vet cardiologist told me that she’d possibly outgrow this as she got older. Then he told me if Sadie had a heart attack which was a possibility, there would be nothing I could do. I took my little puppy and went home. Every morning for three years she stopped by our kitchen sink and waited for her pill.

Thinking all this over on the drive home today exhausted me. Sadie slept the entire three-hour drive curled up on the passenger seat. I didn’t tell her about the leaking heart valve.     I look at Sadie as she starts to drift off to sleep and her forehead is furrowed in thought. I trace the rows of black hair above her beautiful eyes and smooth the wrinkles in her forehead. I long to know what she is thinking and I ask…did she hear what her cardiologist said? Is she worrying about her heart? Does she wish I would stop holding her tightly and go to sleep? My guess would be that if she is troubled…it is for me that she wrinkles her brow. She’d handled the initial diagnosis of her heart condition much better than I did…continuing to explore her puppy world without hesitation.  And when she was pronounced better, for months she’d still stop at the kitchen counter waiting for her pill.

There is no medication this time. I have to watch her and see if she tires easily or doesn’t have the energy to walk as long as usual. Things that required no thought, like playing with Mr. Surfer dog or chasing after tennis balls will now be measurements of how her heart is working. I have to tell her vet if she sleeps more than usual, if she gets tired on our walks or doesn’t want to walk as long as we usually do. If we’re to keep this heart disease predator at bay, these things have to be noticed.

I stayed up all night once watching Sadie sleep when she was sick from eating something inedible as puppies do. The weekend vet wanted me to leave her at the emergency hospital overnight, but I wouldn’t. I’d taken her home and as she slept, I watched her all night. Was our future to be one long extension of that horrible night when I kept putting my face close to her nose to feel her breathing and my ear on her side to hear her heart beating??

It’s been a month since the new diagnosis. I watch her sleep. She sleeps often…in front of the fireplace…on the cool kitchen floor tiles…in the car…on the deck…under my desk. I ask myself, “Is she sleeping more? Should I call her cardiologist?” I feel like I’m spying on her…betraying her. Her Dad tells me I’m imagining things…dogs sleep a lot…I only notice it more now. I love him for saying it even if I don’t really believe it.

In the business park where we like to walk, I won’t let her off the leash to possibly get lost. I protect her from things I can see and anticipate, but there’s nothing I can do to protect her from harm lurking in her own body. I can make sure she doesn’t go into the path of a car, but am helpless at regulating the beats of her heart. I can’t keep her heart valve from leaking or mine from breaking.

Watching her sleep at night is still soothing. It’s the one time I know she should be sleeping. The deer have triggered the motion lights and they shine through our window.  The light allows me to see Sadie’s ears fanned out on the pillow bringing to mind a passage from a book by D.H. Lawrence.

In the book a man watches his young wife sleeping and realizes she is going to leave him. The man reaches out to touch her hair and realized that “he could no more touch her hair than he could her soul. She had crossed the threshold and he was neither able to pull her back or follow her through.” I reach out like I’ve done on thousands of nights and I stroke Sadie’s ears destroying the image of letters already sent. I’m not ready for her to cross any thresholds. I don’t know where Sadie goes when she sleeps; I only know that I will be here every morning when she returns and even on that morning that will change my life forever…when she does not.

Note: SHE SLEEPS was published in PET CITY for the Charleston Daily Mail…Nominee in DWAA 2012 Writing Contest.

Who Gets the Dog in a Divorce?

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Divorce is never easy. And it’s worse when your beloved pet is caught in the middle yet this seems to be happening more and more. Animal law emerged only about 10 years ago, and today half of the 190 accredited law schools in the United States, including Harvard and Yale, offer courses in animal law, including pet custody.

Dogs in Dorm Rooms

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Some students aren’t choosing colleges for their academic rating, diverse majors, or the sports programs. Instead many college bound students think the most important criteria their future alma mater can offer is room in the dorm for their dog.

Old Dog Made an Entire Community His Family

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Sam has no real job, yet he gets plenty to eat. He’s is not on unemployment; he does not receive welfare or any type of Social Security benefits. Sam pays no rent and doesn’t own a house, but he sleeps in a comfortable bed every night and it’s not at a shelter. He doesn’t go to a free clinic or get Medicaid, yet he has excellent medical care and is in very good health for someone who is 91 years old.

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