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Ditch the Retractable Leash

Have you have ever been hog-tied by a dog bounding away from a frazzled owner half a block away holding the black plastic handle? Or have you ever tripped on the spindly black cord crossing a sidewalk, extended from an absent-minded owner (usually on their phone) to the dog sniffing a tree?

If you have, then you’ll be happy to find out that in San Francisco and other major California cities, retractable leashes are “illegal” and have been for years.

Originally invented by Mary A. Delaney in 1908, the retractable leash (also known as extendable leash) has been touted as an easy-to-hold leash that gives your dog the freedom to sniff at leisure. But these canine contraptions are one of the most dangerous and divisive training tools in the dog world.

Many people, and pups, have fallen victim to being on the wrong end of a retractable leash. Injuries range from nasty leash burns and lacerations to puprotedly fatal accidents. A quick web search will show you hundreds of haunting news articles about dogs on retractable leashes and the mayhem they can cause. The gruesome stories range from amputated fingers when trying to grab a hold of the cord to dogs hit by cars or pups wandering into elevators where unbeknownst to the owner, the doors close, and the poor dog is strangled when the elevator changes floors.

The horror stories are endless.

Aside from those worst-case scenarios, just ask a professional dog walker for an opinion on retractable leashes, and he or she will regale you with ample, negative opinions about these demon devices.

You’ll hear complaints of the general pain-in-the butt nature of using them in a pack walk, the stink they emit from the inability to be easily sanitized, and their tendency to tangle like an earbud cord from 2010. Not to mention the No. 1 complaint: the hazard of passing an unfamiliar dog on a retractable leash.

As a dog walker or owner of a reactive dog, the worst nightmare is running into another owner using a retractable leash with a trigger-happy release-button finger. While the dog may be friendly and want to run up and say hi to passing dogs, the dog or dogs it’s trying to say hi to may not be so keen. The result could be a dogfight, tangling of leashes, and injuries to both human and canine. And, for the record, it is impossible to untangle a retractable leash during a dogfight due to the bulky handle and the length of fine cord.

While those e-news stories are tragic to read and the dangers they pose to dog walkers and owners are real issues, these retractable leashes aren’t specifically outlawed. The California legislative prohibition is actually because of the leash length. Take, for instance, San Francisco Municipal Code section 41.12 (Duties of Owners and Guardians): “… It shall be unlawful for the owner or guardian of any animal, other than a domestic cat, to permit said animal to run at large within the City and County; provided, however, that the provisions of this subsection shall not be applicable to any area under the jurisdiction of the Recreation and Park Commission of the City and County, and which has been designated by said Commission as an animal exercise area.”

The definition of “at large” according to sec. 41 is: “… any dog off the premises of its owners or guardians and not under restraint by a leash, rope, or chain of not more than eight (8) feet in length … ” This means, any leash longer than 8 feet (in total length) is in violation of San Francisco law. A quick search on Amazon shows that the average length of a retractable leash is 16 feet, so even if the retractable is coiled and retracted to under an 8-foot lead for your pup, it is still technically in violation. While instances of the city citing dog owners using retractable leashes is almost unheard of, maybe it would be better if the city did issue citations. The incidents of possible injuries or deaths due to these canine contraptions would drastically decrease

For the safety of your pup, yourself, the law, and other residents of San Francisco, ditch the retractable leash. Or at least use it only at designated off-leash areas for training purposes.

Morgan Dvorak was one of 26 kids in her family: two older brothers and 23 younger furry canine brothers and sisters. No matter how many lint rollers, the fur followed. Her career path has never strayed far from the pack, and for the past few years, she has worked as a professional dog walker in San Francisco. She is also working on a book about these experiences. 

Main article photo by: Photo by GlobalP / iStock