Dogster Debate: Do You Think It’s Okay to Break Certain Dog Laws?

Some laws just seem unfair to dogs. When I realized this after moving to New York a year ago, I was frustrated and then angry.


Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this piece are the author’s alone. We are not advocating breaking the dog laws in your city, but we realize that it’s not uncommon for people to do this and think it’s worthy of discussion. We invite you to weigh in below. [Incidentally, one of Dogster’s values states “We think irresponsible pet owners make us all look bad,” and whether or not the author’s suggestions fall into the irresponsible camp is debatable. Again, we’d love to know what you think.]


I live in New York City — downtown Manhattan, to be exact. The city is full of dogs, mostly small dogs but, really, all sizes, all breeds, all sorts of mixes and lots and lots of pit bulls. I have two of those pit bulls: Hudson, 13, and Bunch, 2. Hudson can only go around the block now but Bunch can and will go anywhere, anytime.

Unfortunately, besides dog parks and pet stores, there aren’t many big-dog-friendly places (meaning for dogs eight pounds and over) in the Big Apple. If you have a small dog here, you are much more likely to be able to take them in non-dog-friendly places where people tend to ignore a yapping handbag.

Many laws against dogs seem unfair. Especially for big dog owners who are left out in the cold. Little dogs usually get in via a purse. Breaking the law is an option with consequences.

You might be surprised to hear that a great deal of park space in NYC is labeled as “No Dogs Allowed” even on leash. You can enter most gardens with your dog on a leash, but not basketball courts or paved areas. Go figure.

It’s also almost impossible to take a big dog beyond walking distance, because they’re banned on subways and cabs can choose whether to stop for you and your dog — though, again, tiny dogs have a better chance.

When I realized this after moving here a year ago, I was darned frustrated and then angry. Why should non-tiny dogs be discriminated against? Where was the New York I knew fifteen years ago, where bartenders invited you in with your dog? If a dog is well behaved, why shouldn’t he ride the subway despite his size?

Of course, the answers to these questions are: Because it’s easier to ban something than it is to monitor it. So NOT New York, in my humble opinion!

The fire of rebellion seethed inside me. Not only did this mean I couldn’t combine dog walks and errands (crucial in NYC), it also meant hours of drinking alone in my neighborhood bar without Bunch by my side. Well, okay, maybe not hours.

I pretty much gave up on the non-dog-friendly stores, though I found out that the only establishments where dogs are not legally allowed are those with food preparation and/or the sale of food. Unfortunately, it’s not usually wise to force your dog into a non-food store in New York. Store owners and workers may very well yell you out of the door, which is embarrassing and could cause you to trip over your dog.

Likewise, I might have sneaked my big dog onto the subway during a slow period but it’s likely other passengers would have at the very least, stared evilly at me, and there’s always a conductor. New Yorkers are surpisingly tolerant, but not about unnecessary space usage.

What to do? I drew up some stratagems and took some (sometimes unlawful) risks:

1. Follow the Crowd

If I see a person with another biggish dog go in a store, I risk it and take Bunch in. As long as she’s well-behaved, this has worked unless the store has those tight aisles that a six-year-old child couldn’t fit through.

2. Use Your Assets

It’s summer, and those little cotton dresses that are so cooling also reveal a bit of skin. I have tried wearing these garments when flagging down a cab with Bunch. Either I had good luck or I have enough assets to persuade cab drivers to take me for a ride.

3. Somehow Develop an Ailment That Requires a Therapy Dog

First, I realize this is a crappy sort of deception, except that I honestly consider Bunch my Emotional Therapy Dog. Unfortunately, that’s not considered a valid “ailment” in NYC.

Second, I backed out of this one. My solution was to buy a nonofficial therapy or service vest for Bunch to be able to enter non-dog-friendly stores, the subway and cabs (no matter what I‘m wearing). I came thisclose to buying a vest. Then I read about a woman getting arrested for doing the same thing. Too risky and too hard on the conscience, I figure.

[Editor’s Note: Kelly, really?! Glad you backed out.]

4. Sneak Into a Park

It’s pretty far for us to walk to the nearest dog run, but there’s a non-dog-park run right by us. Park rules are very inconsistent in New York City. Some let you bring your dog, on- or off-leash, to “designated areas” from about 6 to 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. to midnight. Which parks allow this and what the heck the “designated areas” are, it is impossible to find out.

The park near me has no designated areas at any time for dogs to walk or run around. At about 9 on a recent sultry night, I lifted Bunch into a largish paved “No Dogs Allowed” area which was closed in by gates and climbed over. We had a good ten minutes of free run. However, for some reason, getting Bunch back over the gate was a tragic experience. She somehow gained mass during that time and it was not a pretty sight.

I basically wrote off the park lark, but later that week, with my pseudo-success aat the front of my mind, I brazenly dared to take Bunch into the gravel area in front of the library, which had the quintessential “No Dogs Allowed” sign. A park official caught us, and neither my assets, my smile, nor my attempt to convince him about the unfairness of the law kept us from getting a $200 fine.

They don’t mess around in NYC. Not only does crime not pay, it’s damned expensive sometimes.

Do you think it’s okay to break certain dog laws? Have you ever broken any — for the good of your dog, of course?

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