Breakin’ the law, breakin’ the law.

I returned home Monday evening to find a “Love note” from our county’s police department awaiting me on my kitchen table. It was a “Notice of Complaint and Corrective Action” from the Animal Services Division. Apparently, they have “received a complaint concerning violations of the Animal Services Ordinance” and “alleges that [our] animal runs at large.” Which does not mean he has been “chosen by the electorate of, or representing the residents of, an entire political unit, as opposed to a subdivision of the unit” – it means he’s been seen in the neighborhood “free from confinement, control, or restraint.”

The notice furthermore advises that if we provide proof of his rabies vaccination (the tag fell off of his collar) and proof that he is licensed (he’s not), we can avoid fees of up to $600.

Six hundred bucks!

I immediately called the officer and explained that yes, from time to time the dog is in the neighborhood off-leash, but always supervised. This is a big no-no, she told me. And I understand why. But our dog? He's so fat that to allege he “runs” anywhere is a stretch. He can barely run, period, let alone run away. Our neighborhood consists of two dead-end streets and has limited traffic. And our sweet dog is so gentle and friendly and much beloved by many who live on our street, that said complainant must have felt comfortable getting close enough to see that his rabies tag was missing, but his ID tag was still there.

Still, I understand why it's a law, and we got busted, plain and simple. Guilty as charged, Your Honor. Check's in the mail. Leash is by the door.

The officer patiently explained that as long as we provide proof of his rabies vaccination and get him a license, we don’t have to pay the fines. (Of course, we do have to pay for the license.) And, while she allowed as how golden retrievers are indeed the friendliest dogs evah (she knows because she used to have one herself), we do need to walk him on a leash. All valid points, of course.

We are taking the necessary corrective action because we’re no scofflaws. Or at least we’re not anymore.

Not knowingly, anyway.

But then I thought some more about it. What’s the deal with this complaint process? We don’t get to face our accuser? Some disgruntled neighbor can just call up, anonymously, and BAM, you get slapped with potentially hundreds of dollars in fines? Because naturally, I’m curious about who complained.

Yes, they can, I was told by the woman who answered the phone today at Animal Services. All it takes is one single complaint to prompt an officer to pay you a visit and enforce the law.

And what about that license law, anyway? Honestly, we didn’t realize it was required. Wouldn’t the veterinarian’s office maybe have prompted us at some point during the five years we’ve owned the dog? She said Animal Services has asked the vets to, but they… don’t. It’s incumbent on owners to just figure this stuff out. Absorb it through the water, I guess.

So there’s a law on the books that only gets enforced if a disgruntled person calls and makes a complaint. That's awesome.

We asked the boys if they had any idea who might have complained. They both admitted to having been scolded by one particular neighbor. News to us! So, if this neighbor has called out my kids, perhaps instead of filing a formal complaint, they might instead have called us first to express concern. Give us the benefit of the doubt. After all, we’re reasonable people! We like peace and harmony in the ‘hood. It’s in everyone’s best interest.

But instead, they (or someone) apparently lured my dog over close enough to read his ID tag. I hope they gave him a treat for being so patient and calm while they copied down our information.

Of course, I’m only guessing here. I don’t know if it was that particular neighbor. But I do know there was only one complaining party. And I know my boys received only one admonition from a lady up the street.

You do the math.

Don't misunderstand: I'm not bitter that we got caught because that would imply we were fully aware that we were breakin' the law. And don't call me out on all the ways in which we were wrong. I KNOW. No, I'm more wondering about the process and how it can be that there's a law that is hardly publicized, and selectively and randomly enforced. And I'm bewildered that a supposedly reasonable, mature adult chose to take this approach rather than working things out directly with us. That's all.

5 thoughts on “Breakin’ the law, breakin’ the law.

  1. Agree that it’s totally weird that a nearby neighbor would write down all of your dog’s info off his tag and then . . .call animal control instead of YOU, to say, “Hey, ya know, your dog doesn’t have a license and should’t be running around!” But I admit, I sort of can’t help thinking, “How could you not know that your dog needs a license?” I mean, even in Shoreham, Vermont you have to get a dog license every year by March 31. Is that not true pretty much everywhere? Remember all those old cartoons with dogcatchers? Were they not rounding up all unlicensed dogs?

  2. After finding a beagle (the breed that shall never ever be off leash, says the woman who let us adopt ours) in the middle of a street near my house, my beagle and I checked his tags and helped shepherd him home. When we got there and knocked on the door to let them know that a) your dog is playing speed bump in the middle of a very busy street and b) it’s against the law and the coppers all over this place cuz we live next to a school/head start/ community center, I got the door slammed in my face. These folks continue to let the dog roam and skittle around nervously dodging traffic and they continue to shoot me daggers when Bailey and I walk by. I’m not saying this equates to your situation at all, I’m just trying to explain why a process for anonymous neighbor ratting my be in place.

  3. Well, if we look at the work place, which you and I both do, we know that to confront issues head on is not an easy thing to do (particularly for managers, never mind for neighbors). Avoidance is easier. And reporting it to a third party is even easier.
    But my goodness, sending the police to fix the issue only pours miracle gro over an already uncomfortable shituation, and never gives either side a chance to say their piece.

  4. Bets – I thought the cartoon dogcatchers were rounding up strays, or rabid dogs, or bad dogs – not ones who obviously looked familiar and were docile and only 3 doors away from home.
    Amanda – these people have been our neighbors for easily 5 or 6 years, maybe longer. They know us, they know our dog. I can’t imagine why the owner in your scenario would have slammed the door on you – shame on them, you were just trying to do the right thing. And yes, in that case, anonymous reporting makes sense. But in ours, it doesn’t. If they had approached us (the adults) first and we didn’t respond, then I’d understand. But then they might not be anonymous.
    CBW – Curt and I were talking last night about it – it seems to us worse than a speeding ticket. In that case, the officer actually catches you (or the speed camera does) – an enforcer of the law witnesses the infraction. Here, based on one single complaint, an officer is dispatched to leave a note. And it’s just a warning, but they *could* impose hefty fines. So, I guess if I don’t like their little yappy dog, I could simply call and say, barks ALLLLL the time, anonymously, and have an officer pay them a visit, too. Which wouldn’t exactly be true, but how would the officer know? Just sayin’.

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