Unleashed in Georgetown

Photo by Shannon Warner
Getting a ticket with Angus for having him off a leash!
Getting a ticket with Angus for having him off a leash!

Aside from speeding tickets, my record with the law is pretty clean.  So when a US Park Police officer threatened to arrest me, telling me I was violating federal law, I was in shock.

My crime? Having Angus off the leash in Montrose Park.

Angus and I were the only ones in the park one recent morning. Sitting at a picnic table, I chatted on my cell phone and sipped a latte from Starbucks while Angus gnawed on a stick three feet away. We were waiting for Tank, Angus’s buddy, to arrive for a morning romp. That’s when I looked up and saw a police officer walking across the field. I quickly leashed the dog, spilling some of my coffee in the scramble.

Angus waits patiently (Photo by: Page Evans) Angus waits patiently
As dog owners in Montrose, we all let our pets run freely. The dogs of Montrose are, on the whole, friendlier than most. Maybe I’m biased, but it’s a peaceable kingdom up there. Kids play on one side, dogs on the other. Technically, dogs are supposed to stay leashed. I know, I know. It’s the law. But in the 15 years I’ve been using that park with both dogs and children, dogs have had free reign. And pet owners, for the most part, are responsible about cleaning up after them. There are even plastic bags at both entrances to the park for owners to use. Most of the time, the park police stride by with a wink and a warning. 

Of course, one is always supposed to respect police officers. They are carrying guns, after all. And they risk their lives to protect citizens. But this particular officer and I did not get off to a good start. I couldn’t understand why, with everything happening in the world, he would care that my docile lab was unleashed--especially when there were no other dogs--or humans--in  sight.

I guess what took me off guard was his first question: “Can I see your license?”

My license? Was this a moving violation?

So I asked, “Why do you need to see my license?”

“Are you arguing with me?”

“No, I just don’t see why you need  to see my license.”

“Ma'am, I could arrest you if you give me false information.”

I handed him my license, flipping my wrist as if dealing cards. I may have even rolled my eyes. (Helpful, I know.)  Staring at it, he asked, “What’s your name?”

“What’s your name?” I asked. (You can see how this is going.)

He didn’t give me his name, but continued peppering me with questions. What was my address, social security number, eye color, place of birth?

Did he think I was operating a terrorist cell out of Montrose Park?

“You know, I’m not really comfortable giving out my social security number,” I told him. “What if I don’t give it to you?”

He repeated his arrest threat, so I thought it prudent to give him all my pertinent information. After all, if I landed in the slammer, I couldn’t very well pick up my children from school later that day. Sorry girls, Mommy got uppity with the cops and now she’s behind bars. Besides, I wasn’t really mugshot-ready.  

Unlike his owner, Angus was on his best behavior, sitting calmly as the officer wrote up the yellow ticket.

“So, is this a serious charge?” I asked.

“Yes, it is. If you don’t pay it, there could be federal warrant for your arrest.”

I’d say that’s pretty serious. Maybe a little more serious than the stain on my shirt from the spilled latte. 

In the end, I know the guy was just doing his job. And I’m sure I fit some sort of preppy Georgetowner profile, attired in J. Crew and armed with a cell phone and Starbucks cup. Could I have been a little less obnoxious? Probably. Could he have been a little more understanding? Probably. 

Will I keep Angus on a leash in the future? Probably not. But I’ll certainly keep a keen eye out for the cops. After all, I’d rather walk the dog than do a perp walk.

 

 

0 Comments For This Article

Steve25

I'm glad self-entitled folk like you sometimes are reminded that the law applies to everyone.

Anonymous

I suspect that he may have been reacting to some aggressive dog situations of late. While most dogs may be harmless from attacks, I believe you are being far too generous in your discription of the owners. Many don't clean up, they allow their dogs free reign to go to the bathroom wherever they want (including the play area for children). Most people wouldn't steal from a store because of their moral conpass. Some would if there were no laws against it.

Alix Sundquist

I couldn't sympathize with you more, Page! We adopted an English pointer in Bordeaux and, when we lived there, she had free rein of vinyards and grounds and no one ever complained, even when she killed a bunch of chickens at a friend's chateau! What are you supposed to do with a healthy, active animal?

We now have adopted a cat from the local animal welfare league and we had to swear on the Bible that she will never be let out...We've had cats all our lives and that was never a problem. Two of them lived to be over 20.

By the way, we will be looking for a dog to adopt after my daughter's wedding next month. Where did you get Angus? He looks adorable!

Anonymous

This was outrageous and ridiculous! With all the serious crime in the city, this was a waste of police manpower. Clearly, the officer's attitude was hostile from the get-co.

Judy Kane

It's great to vent at work... on the web! I hope you will at least fight the ticket in court. He must have been having a bad day.

Cops can't find the graffit artists in Georgetown, but they sure can find leashless dogs.

Alison Alten

Paige, I remember the brouhaha over the playground - the kids would upset the ghosts in the graveyard, the site was too close/too far from the street, the unleashed dogs would terrorize the kids who weren't contained in the play area, etc. Is there room for a dog run in the park, or "dog hours" in the park, or some other arrangement to allow all mammals to coexist in the space?

Anonymous

It happens every spring.

For whatever reason, the Park Police step up enforcement of the leash law. And it's a good idea to cooperate.

I personally know of two cases of folks at Montrose who have spent an entire weekend in jail for failure to cooperate. In fact, I believe both cases involved three-day holiday weekends.

In one of those cases, I was walking my dog in the park, and a Park Policeman in a squad car came speeding down the sidewalk next to the trellis and almost hit me. He did NOT have his lights or siren on.
I had just walked under the trellis and was a couple of steps away from making a right onto the sidewalk when the car whizzed by. My dog and I were steps away from being stuck by his car.

In a separate case, a female Park Police officer stalked two dog owners, showing up at their home near Carter Barron, and peeking into their window and onto their property early in the morning. Unfortunately for her, one of the owners was Chief of Staff for a powerful member of Congress. She soon found herself working a different beat.

But also remember that a police officer died of a heart attack chasing two weiner dogs who had escaped from their owner at Montrose Park.

So the lesson I've learned for all this is to be polite and cooperate. Don't do anything to rile them up. Pay the ticket. And move on.

JoeG

Page, Angus is about as dangerous as a butterfly! I will gladly kick in $10 for your Legal Defense Fund.

H. L.Mencken once wrote about the blue-noses who tried to terrorize adult society and mores during the 1920s (and I paraphrase): "Deep in their narrow minds is the fear that someone -- somewhere and somehow -- is haing fun in life. Such cannot be tolerated."

That cop should be hauled back to the academy and be required to repeat Cop 101 -- i.e., courtesy in dealing with the public.

Bah. And also humbug.

Joe

Anonymous

The leash law is important and should be enforced. If you want your dog to be off-leash, take him to the countryside where he will not impose himself on others (humans and canines). Too often, I have heard from an owner: "Don't worry, he's friendly." Only to see the 90 pound dog jump up and knock over a small child or elderly person. In fact, nearly 10 years ago, a lovely 86 year old G'town widow would walk each afternoon in either Montrose or Rose Park. She was knocked down by a black lab, taken to the hospital with a broken hip that never mended nor permitted her to walk again. She died within that year.
There have been times I have walked my dog, or that of my neighbor's, on leash, and on the path in both Montrose and Rose Parks, only to have a larger ("friendly",per the owner), dog jump upon the leashed dog and maul; often not letting go of the neck and spine area.

I personally consider this attitude of yours to be highly disrespectful to your fellow Georgetown neighbors and residents who have the right to enjoy the parks without being imposed upon by your selfish desire to allow your dog to run free while intimidating and freightening others.

How sad that you have children that you are influencing with your self-centered, disrespect for obeying laws, and the officers who enforce them.

BRAVO to the officer who cited you. You

Rufus the Dog

Although I agree with the original post that the law applies to everyone there are times in which a warning is just as effective if not more than writing an actual ticket. This appears to be a slow day for the Park Police and an overly aggressive office.

Personally we use Volta Dog Park and I'm wondering if we can get the name of that officer so he can go police the kids who play softball there several times a week WITHOUT THE REQUIRED PERMITS. Instead the police and softball Mom's only target the dog owners.

If two people are doing something wrong who is actually more wrong?

Anonymous

Wow, hostile person! How did you manage to text and ride your bicycle down the middle of Rock Creek Parkway at the same time?

Anonymous

Wow, hostile person! How did you manage to text and ride your bicycle down the middle of Rock Creek Parkway at the same time?

ef

I have a rescue dog with a lot of issues with other dogs. The last thing he needs is another dog who's off leash and not under control coming running towards him. So suddenly, instead of just need to control my dog, I also need to control *your* dog as well. But thats okay, you and your dog are special, I have to keep mine on a leash and you can do whatever you want. Thats fair right?

Anonymous

I'm impressed that your publicist was there to get a picture of you getting the ticket!

Parker

No worries. Park Police will be on a skeleton shift come Saturday a.m., and rationality will return.

Anonymous

While I think the police officer was completely in the right in giving a citation, the attitude he displayed was completely in the wrong.

Police are to serve and protect. Bullying citizens when the situation is free, easy and calm is just wrong. He could have asked for your ID and established who you were and written the citation without making you fear for your safety.

You were right to be scared--he not only had a gun, but the power do bodily harm and to lock you up when the situation did not call for any such actions. This is police bullying, an abuse of power and it is wrong.

Anonymous

AMEN!!!!!

Karen Nicholson

Page
I applaud your efforts at Montrose. I can only imagine how I would have reacted if I was approached like that. My killer Shih Zhus, Max and Muffie love a little freedom and they could ride on Angus' back
Laws I understand sometimes I simply don't agree with them
"Power to The People"!
K

Anonymous

To Steve25:
What makes you call her "self-entitled?" Having a bad day, are we? What happened to giving someone a warning? I sympathize with anyone who has to deal with a cop with that kind of attitude -- as well as with someone who tells her story only to insulted by a total stranger.

Anonymous

You got hit with what they (in law enforcement) call "contempt of cop" so I would advise you to contact the US Park Police OPR (Office of Professional Responsibility) if you would like to file a complaint with regard to this officer's lack of IPC (interpersonal communication skills) as these federal officers are very lucky (in this recession economy) to have a job (in the 1st place) and they really don't do any "real" (they aren't even 1811's) police work but most folks are scared of the police (local, state or federal) and think that if they file a complaint that the officer agency will just cover it up but let me let ya in on a little secret; the USG (United States Government) "LOVES" going after it's own. I will say this, next time, "kill em with kindness" and he'll probably cut ya loose but he was probably in a bad mood cause they (USPP is one of the agencies) will be "shut down" (gov't closure) in one more day (and he's probably one of the junior officers who will have to report for work and not get paid)...Gotta love "Uncle Sugar" (aka Uncle Sam)!

Anonymous

You got caught in what LEO's (law enforcement officers) call "contempt of cop" so contact the US Park Police OPR (Office of Proessional Responsibility) and file a complaint (just Google US Park Police and you'll get their website and a link to the OPR division) for this officer lack of IPC (interpersonal communication skills) skills. Most folks are scared to file a complaint but let me let ya in on a little secret. The USG (United States Government) "LOVES" going after its own! Also, they don't do any "real" police work (not even 1811's) so he was probably just upset that when the gov't shuts down he still has to come to work (and not paid) cause they seem to forget (in this recession economy) how lucky they are to even have a job (you should see the 10,000 kids that apply for 50 USPP slots). I will say this, next time try and "kill em with kindess" and he'll probably cut ya loose but I'd still file a complaint (it's your complete right as a citizen). Good luck......

Anonymous

"Will I keep Angus on a leash in the future? Probably not." This does not make me sympathize with your situation.

SStraw

This argument will continue until we are all blue in the face. Good for you Paige. Pay the ticket and keep letting Angus enjoy some free time to be a dog. Small price to pay for the happiness of our best friends. Maybe we need to start a park for "dog people" who understand. And let the others with their snarky comments have their own park. With barbed wire on the benches.

SLK

I agree the officer seems to have over-reacted, but perhaps he has felt disrespected by people who snub their noses at the law--unless of course a policeman is around. I've heard these off-leash in public people say: "Nobody around is complaining." Maybe that is because those who are too young, too old or too afraid to get knocked over for personal reasons, people with dogs who are old, sick or simply do not appreciate uninvited "friendly" dog visits, etc., have decided they just won't go to the park. Their right to enjoy the park has been stolen by selfish people like Page. Page should get off her cell phone and get a DC Dog Park tag for her dog. Both my dogs are fully licensed for dog parks. I know that other dogs in the park are DC licensed, vaccinated, size-appropriate for play, and we can have a good time without worrying about a ticket!

Ashley

This is a concerning situation as it seems like a clear abuse of power by the Park Police. There was a report on the DC Dogs listserve of a Park Police officer that threatened to shoot two labs if the owner did not leash them immediately. What is truly scary about this scenario is that they legally can do that with no repercussions. There are countless reports of DC Metro shooting dogs, often fatal, for no valid reason.

A few months ago a chocolate lab escaped out the front door in Foxhall Village and was running down the street with the owner chasing him. A police officer happened to be nearby and shot the dog who was not acting aggressive at all. This pet lived but there are multiple examples of needless lethal force where the dog was not so lucky.

I agree with this dog owner and do not find her "entitled" at all. If no one was in the park and her dog was quietly chewing on a stick what is the harm? Her tax dollars pay for that park too and she should be able to enjoy it. I will continue to let my dogs off leash as long as they are not bothering anyone. If Park Police wants to give me a ticket then I would pay it but harassing someone to this extent just seems unnecessary and irrational.

CW

Park police are fascists. They have nothing better to do than to harras you and your dog. Angus should have liftged his leg on the guy. I woould suggest that you write his boss and describe his rudeness.

Anonymous

I love animals, I work with animals, I am the human companion to several animals. That said, I also have deep respect for the fact that how my animals behave at home, and in my company, may not always be the same behavior they exhibit when confronted with another animal, or human, who brings their own "energy", emotions, etc to the scene.

Time and again I've witnessed the "baby" that would never hurt a flee become suddenly aggressive in response to feeling intimidated by another animal, or startled by a child. Many times I've seen an overly loving dog knock over a child, or approach a nervous stranger on a park trail. And if you are the nervous stranger, you may not know whether you're being approached out of friendliness or aggression. And I've been walking my own dogs (leashed) and been approached by unleashed dogs who might be a little pushier or uber-friendly than my dog can handle. That is simply not fair.

It's not a judgement about you or your animal, but simply the fact that we all share the bit of great out doors the city has to offer, and while you and your pets may mean well, you do not know how another human or animal will react to being approached by a strange dog. I wouldn't want my dogs getting bitten because the dog they approach while off-leash gets scared and acts out of intimidation, and I don't want my children or dogs being intimidated by a strange dog rushing towards them (heck even I've been intimidated by that on occasion - I love dogs, but I don't want your dog running up to me when I'm enjoying a meditative walk alone). I know it would be lovely if we could let them run around free wherever they like, but the simple fact is that when outside, we all have to share, and play safe.

Anonymous

I do feel that dogs off-leash create a sense of insecurity for children, the elderly and other dogs, which prevents others from enjoying the park.

This is the case for my family. We used to avoid the park entirely because of the dogs off leash, despite the fact that this park is by far the closest to our place. When we do use the park, we get across the open zone outside the small fenced playground as quickly as possible, and do not use the swings if there are dogs off-leash nearby.

There seems to be a blatant disregard for our concerns, owners often throwing sticks for their dogs to chase right in our direction. When one or several dogs run straight at you and your children, there is no way to tell whether they will jump on you, whether they will be friendly or not, and there is nothing really you can do if this happens. We sometimes asked dog owners if they could please put their dogs on leash - so far their reaction has always been, with only one exception, to continue leaving the dog run around unleashed.

Other parents with whom I have spoken feel the same, even those who have been dog-owners themselves. Parents we know had a dog grab a small stuffed animal from their son's hand and run off with it, and the dog owner was completely unconcerned saying that the stuffed animal was "unharmed".

I am sure that your dog is very friendly and understand where dogowners are coming from needing a convenient exercise area. I am also sure that most dog-owners do not wish to create insecurity for others and that they believe that what they are doing is harmless. However, others cannot know which dogs are friendly, so I think that a good solution is to keep the dogs on leash. In fact I think that far too little is done to address the issue by the Park Police given the flagrant violation of the law.

I would encourage people who are concerned about this issue to contact the Park Police and encourage them to send officers to the park to enforce the leasing laws: (202) 426-7716.

Anonymous

I mean really now: In an era marked by sustained national, if not global recession, with the national deficit looming about $1.6 trillion; with the national debt pegged at $14.277 trillion; with America at one stage of war or another in three foreign lands, including Afghanistan, where 1,175 U.S. servicemen and women have died fighting since 2001--with 10,855 being wounded,and more occurring by the month; with the U.S. daily losing ground to China in the race to invent green technology; with U.S. geopolitical standing likewise being eroded; with China owning $1.6 trillion in U.S. debt; with the earth--and America--imperiled by the likely impact of climate change, and with no viable alternative to fossil fuels in sight, the good people of this online community have written 3,550 words debating the merits and demerits of whether a lone dog in an empty park on a raw spring day should be leashed. Perhaps, given the high intelligence of this Georgetown community, greater attention could be paid to issues of higher consequence--like the general welfare of our country, if not the world. Just a thought.

Anonymous

The connection between the recession, national debt, the war and dogs seems dubious. These important issues do not prevent people from being civilized with their neighbors. Dog owners letting their dogs loose basically prevents other people, such as families with young kids or elderly from enjoying this park.

It is not a matter of whether this or that dog is friendly. I have often often been like a sitting duck in this park with my young kids, a baby in my arms or in a stroller, seeing dogs off-leash dash at us. There is no way to know whether a dog will be friendly or not. I have been run at by a dog when I was a child, got scared and the dog started to lash out, hurting my brother - there is nothing you can do when it happens. It only takes one bite to hurt, disfigure or just traumatize a child.

Putting dogs on leash in this park is not only the law, it is also a matter of safety and mere courtesy. Letting dogs off-leash creates a sense of insecurity, exposes visitors to increased risk of incidents and fosters dog owners' complacency toward such risk. I am very grateful for dog-owners who put their dogs on leash in the park, and for the park police's efforts to ensure that everyone can enjoy this nice park.