A dog ordinance is a local law that applies specifically to canines or other animals commonly kept as pets. Though the ordinance may apply mainly to dogs, a dog ordinance is often not limited in its language just to canine breeds. The main objective of the ordinance is to keep pets under control, and to punish owners who may act irresponsibly with their animals. Ordinances may be related both to the care and behavior of the animals.
A dog ordinance may be a civil or a criminal matter, depending on the type of offense, and possibly even the number of offenses. If the matter is civil, a court may assess a penalty, but no mark will appear on an individual's criminal record, as is often the case with parking tickets. If the matter is criminal, the severity of the crime is often considered very minor, such as a simple misdemeanor, which may be punished by a maximum fine and possibly some jail time, typically not exceeding 30 days.
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The dog-at-large ordinance is one of the most common types of ordinances relating to dogs. A dog-at-large ordinance is often legal terminology referring to what many call a "leash law." This law prohibits dogs from freely running throughout a local jurisdiction, often even if the owner is nearby. In some cases, leash-free zones, such as dog parks, may be constructed to allow for more free-roaming exercise. This law may technically apply to cats, but is typically much harder to enforce on felines.
Another dog ordinance that many jurisdictions choose to impose is a dog barking ordinance. This type of ordinance is often enforced on a complaint basis only. It may also apply to only certain times of the day. If that is the case, the evening hours are often the most likely time the ordinance is in effect.
Some communities impose a dog ordinance relating to the care of animals as well. In such cases where an animal is abused or neglected, this gives the local jurisdiction the power to seize the animal, and charge the owner with a criminal offense. These ordinances are more rare simply because state laws or federal laws may address the issue of neglect and abuse and often carry tougher penalties than the local ordinance may be able to prescribe.
Many communities may require registration of a dog in addition to regular vaccinations against diseases such as rabies, but other measures are more controversial. Some communities may even restrict the breeds allowed inside the jurisdiction. This is often done because some breeds have a reputation for being vicious or aggressive. Critics argue that such laws only lead to owners of such breeds not registering their animals, and are ultimately unfair to those owners who raise dogs with good dispositions.