The Common Law
Off-leash dogs take over Central Austin park?
I live in Central Austin and my kids and I often go to the West Austin Neighborhood Park in Clarksville between 9th and 10th streets. There's a fenced dog-park section of the park where dogs are allowed to be off leash. Recently the rest of the unfenced park green space has been overrun by off-leash dogs. There are often so many off-leash dogs that kids can't play in the green space area. Can a bunch of dog owners just decide to take over the park's green space with off-leash dogs? Is this legal?
No. Austin City Code prohibits unrestrained dogs in this park's unfenced green space area. The dogs in the unfenced green space area must be on a leash and under the dog owner's control. Dog owners cannot unilaterally decide a public park is an off-leash zone.
The city of Austin code that regulates dogs starts with a simple, general rule – a dog owner shall keep the dog under restraint (Austin City Code § 3-4-1). This is typically done by putting the dog on a leash in public. The City Code requires that a person holding a dog on a leash must keep the dog under control at all times.
The City Code does set out several specific public locations where restraint of a dog is not required (A.C.C. § 3-4-4). For example, specific locations at Zilker Park, Auditorium Shores, and Red Bud Isle are off-leash areas. Check out A.C.C. § 3-4-4 for a complete list of off-leash areas. Dogs may also be off leash in areas designated by the director of the Parks and Recreation Department, which allows for off-leash dogs in certain fenced dog-park areas. These areas will have signs that make it clear the city has designated these areas as off-leash.
The West Austin Neighborhood Park in Clarksville is not listed as an off-leash area in the Austin City Code. This means that dogs must be restrained outside of the fenced dog-park section. Hopefully the dog owners will be conscientious and abide by the rules. If not, you and others in the neighborhood that want the off-leash dog activity to stop can call 311 to report the issue.
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Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.mehlaw.com.
The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.