Law of the leash

We've all heard it a hundred times. An unfamiliar dog bounds toward you without a leash and its owner reassures you, ``Oh, he's friendly, he won't hurt you.''

As the dog rushes at you, your children or your own pet, you can only hope that they are right.

Those who have been attacked by an unleashed pet will certainly never trust such a remark again.

There were 93,533 dogs licensed by King County Animal Control in 2003, the most current year with statistics available on its Web site. About 350 bites are reported to King County Animal Control annually. More than 4.5 million bites are reported each year nationwide.

Every couple of months, a report is filed with the Mercer Island Police Department about an unrestrained dog attacking people and their pets.

A teen walking a small dog near Ellis Pond was attacked by two unleashed dogs just weeks ago. Luckily for the girl, a neighbor risked bodily injury herself and intervened. The dogs were later destroyed.

Early last summer, an Island woman walking her small dog near East Mercer Way, lost part of her finger to a pit bull that attacked her and her pet. A passing cyclist used his bike to fend off the dog.

Mercer Island police, who rely on King County Animal Control on these matters, do not have the resources to follow up themselves on complaints about dogs. City laws are quite specific: dogs must be on a leash in active areas such as playgrounds and athletic fields. They can be off-leash -- but still under voice or signal control -- in ``passive and non-active areas'' such as the dog area in Luther Burbank Park or Tract A behind the south-end QFC. It is something community members should be expected to know.

The recent attack is an important reminder to pet owners to keep their dogs under control.

Being off-leash for the dog's benefit does not cut it. An unpredictable incident can have horrific consequences.

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