Owning a dog is a responsibility, and when that responsibility isn’t taken seriously, bad things can happen.

Just ask Cynthia Roodman of Gardiner, who was attacked by two dogs last year while walking through a parking lot, leaving her with injuries requiring staples in her head and stitches in her ear and arm.

Or Sharron Carey, who was seriously injured in 2016 in an attack in Winslow by two dogs that also killed her Boston terrier.

Or Alicia Mitchell, who was bitten, as were her two teenage daughters, earlier this year in Rumford.

And while it’s the dog that may be put down, and the victims who will live forever with the scars, it was the dog owners who, through momentary inattention or a pattern of indifference, allowed it all to happen.

Fortunately, under a new law passed this year, irresponsible dog owners will face more than the comparative slap on the wrist formerly allowed under law. L.D. 858, which went into effect Aug. 1, raised the fine and expanded the penalties for owning a dangerous or nuisance dog, and for not following a court order related to that dog. It also allows for the rehabilitation of dogs whose dangerous behavior may have been the result of poor ownership, or some other problem that can be solved.


Of course, once the dog has been deemed dangerous, it is often too late. A heavy fine won’t heal the nerves in Roodman’s arm, nor will it bring back Fergie Rose, Sharron Carey’s terrier.

Perhaps the potential for a heavy penalty will cause dog owners to be more diligent – to make sure that their door is closed, that the fence is stable or that the dog is on a leash.

But there is also a place here for communities to act. State law says only that dogs must be under the control of someone – not “at-large.” The law leaves it to municipalities to say where and when dogs must be leashed, if at all. Towns and cities should enact clear, safe leash laws, and then enforce them. Community members should expect dogs to be leashed – and dog owners, in the name of community, should follow that expectation.

Those leash laws not only keep potentially dangerous dogs in check, but also make sure that animal instincts don’t get the best of a dog at the wrong time. A running child or another animal can trigger the predator deep down in our pets, and in a moment everyone’s life can change.

And even if you are confident in your dog, understand that not everyone at the park or out for a walk knows Spot like you do. For people with a small child or shy dog, an off-leash canine coming their way is a stressful moment that takes away from the enjoyment of their surroundings.

Owning a dog is a responsibility, not just to feed and shelter an animal, but also to keep that animal out of positions where it might strike out in fear, or inappropriately follow its own doggy impulses. It’s a responsibility to the dog, and to the community around you.

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