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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.

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