Dog danger: Accident, citations highlight leash law debate


Linda Owens doesn't blame the dog who caused her to fall and shatter her wrist, but her views on the leash law have changed.

The city recently began enforcing the leash law along the Greenbelt Trail after a slew of citizens complained about unruly dogs and their law-bucking owners, but Linda Owens says she wasn't one of the complainers. In fact, she'd never given the leash issue much thought. Until the accident.


A marathon runner, Owens, 69, frequently ran the four-mile round trip along the paved portion of the Rivanna Trail from Riverside Park to the VFW Lodge and back accompanied by a friend and the friend's dog, which was often off-leash. But on Tuesday, May 22, Owens says, the reason for a leash law became clear. Painfully clear.

Owens says she had passed two teenagers obedience training an approximately six-month-old puppy in the field near Costner's auto repair. The first time past, the mixed breed puppy came over to sniff her running companion's dog, then returned to the field without incident.

As the two runners and the dog approached again on their return trip,  the friendly puppy seemed to recognize them, Owens says, and raced over. Owens says she has often had to stop or step over dogs in her path, but this time, the puppy ran so quickly under her feet that she lost her balance. She fell, landing hard on her left arm. "I immediately knew that I had a very bad injury," says Owens, who could see from the angle of her wrist that it was severely broken.

"I couldn't get up," she recalls. "I was in so much pain."

Her friend raced back for the car– nearly two miles away–  then picked Owens up from the Costner's lot and took her to Martha Jefferson Hospital. Her wrist, x-rays revealed, was shattered and required surgery to insert a steel plate and 13 screws. The bill: a whopping $25,000 and counting.

Fortunately Owens, a property manager, has health insurance. She doesn't blame the dog or its owners– whose names she never asked.

"It was an accident," she says. Owens says she loves animals and understands why many people– her friends included– like to have their dogs accompany them on their trail runs. But  the multitude of uses for the Rivanna trail, she now believes, makes it unsuitable for dogs running free.

"There are too many runners, people with strollers, people riding bicycles," she says. "Anything can happen."

She also believes the current leash law arrangement– dogs are allowed off-leash on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday on the trail "short loop"– is "confusing." In fact, Owens says she didn't realize the dog accompanying her and her friend should have been leashed that day on that portion of the trail.

Kevin Cox says he's also witnessed problems with off-leash dogs. His 8-year-old son was recently knocked off his bike when a dog ran in front of him in a leash-required area, and his wife, who is blind, was nearly knocked to the ground by a dog who ran into her on a leash-required day. 

Such stories prompted the crackdown, says city spokesperson Ric Barrick, who says the city is now enforcing the leash law in all parks. "There was renewed interest in the issue," he says.

Dog owners who let their dogs run in verboten areas face a class four misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $250. And if in the past the law was more bark than bite, that's not the case any longer.

"We're going to enforce it," says Charlottesville Police Sergeant L.A. Durrette, "and city and county residents need to understand that the city does have a leash law."


Read more on: leash laws for dogs


About a year ago I was walking with a friend on the trail at Riverview Park when we saw a lady with a dog approaching from the oncoming direction. It's all cool until right when the dog gets next to me it jumps up and puts its muddy paws on my stomach like it wants to be petted. I pushed it off, and the owner sort of scolds the animal and then laughs like it's so cute that the dog is so friendly. Meanwhile, I've got a mud stained white shirt at the beginning of a date with a lady I'm trying to impress. Thanks a lot!

I am a dog owner and I fully support the leash law not only because my dogs could cause an accident and injure someone, but also because I want my dogs to be safe. We all do need to understand that dogs are animals and no matter how well we trained them there can be a time they will not follow our command and just do what their instict is telling them to do. There have been many times while walking my (leashed) dogs that an unleashed dog approached and turned aggressive towards my dogs. I think that any responsible dog owner will put his or her dogs safety first and put him or her on a leash.

Just wanted to say that Linda Owens looks pretty good for being 69 years old. Maybe more people should start running marathons!

I am a long-time runner and has just recently become a puppy owner. These stories as well as one from my good friend on the same trail make me angry. Although I have never been intiminated by any dog on any trail, I fully support the leash law. How can a dog owner assume that all others are also dog lovers and also his or her dog would be always under control so can be walked without a leash. Even so, it is true that some dogs look intimidating even they are actually sweet. I believe polite dog owners should always walk their dogs with leash and ask their dogs stay off the trail whenever they see somebody passes by. This is what I always see when running in my neighborhood.