Is “Right” Always the Letter of the Law?

by francine Hardaway on July 25, 2014

On paper, I am an elderly person in danger of deteriorating mentally and dying early because I live alone. In actuality, I live with three dogs, and have, until recently, enjoyed the company of other people every morning.

But my community is gradually being taken away from me. The off-leash law for dogs is the one that really has transformed my life for the worse. You see, even though Phoenix is supposedly under the control of the conservative Republicans to the point where our schools suffer and our health care is insufficient for the working poor, every time I move, I break at least one law. That law, though apparently benign and arguably necessary, has begun to destroy my sense of community with a place I’ve lived in for 45 years and my personal well-being. Every time I leave the house with the dogs, I feel like a fugitive.

I go out for a walk with the dogs some time between 5:30 and 6 every morning. I make a stop at Starbucks, and drive to the closest park, which is usually empty, except for other early dog walkers.

I don’t walk the dogs in my neighborhood because that’s pretty early in the morning and mine would set everyone else’s barking. Also, I had a hip replacement in 2006, after which I was officially designated as handicapped and warned by the hip surgeon not to let myself be pulled by the dogs anymore.

So I took the boys to a neighborhood park, where there were other people with dogs at that ungodly hour. These people became my friends. We walked together every morning, and I saw one couple get married and have a baby, several people lose their jobs and rebuild their lives in the Great Recession, and someone have surgery (besides me). The core park group ranged in age from 28-70, and everyone learned to respect, admire, and in some cases love each other. I’ve had parties in my home for these people and their dogs.

Then an outsider complained. The police swooped in, gave us tickets, and converted the park to a leash only park. That means even if your dog is obedience-trained and a canine good citizen, which two of my dogs are, it’s tough shit. I bet I’ve paid nearly $2000 in dog trainer fees to have my boys civilized, but the City of Phoenix made me lose my entire investment in an afternoon. They said I should go to the dog park. The dog park doesn’t even open until 6:30, and the one closest to my house is closed for renovations all summer.

So the boys and I began frequenting another park. And once again I made close friends, But again someone complained, and the police came with the squad car rolling across the grass and threatened us again with the tickets. I beat the first ticket by going to court and representing myself, and the City Attorney realized the the law was unclear and whether I was out of compliance was ambiguous.

Not only that, but it’s always the same officer.

The City has a $38 million budget deficit. In the face of potential layoffs, is this really the most important law to enforce with a police escort for dog walkers? What would be wrong with declaring some early hours of the morning legal to walk dogs off leash.

This morning I DID try to go to the dog park. Alone. No friends. No community, no socialization. That’s how I found out that
1) it doesn’t open before 6:30 (by which time I’m usually done) and
2) it’s closed for the summer for renovations anyway.

I know this is a first world problem, but in the third world there are no leash laws. I may have to move.

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