New Castle County police: Leash your dog or pay up

Owners watch as their dogs play Tuesday at Talley Day Bark Park north of Wilmington. No leashes are required at bark parks. (Shirley Min/WHYY)

Owners watch as their dogs play Tuesday at Talley Day Bark Park north of Wilmington. No leashes are required at bark parks. (Shirley Min/WHYY)

To make sure people are safe and have fun in New Castle County parks, police officers are cracking down on their enforcement of the county’s dog off-leash code.

Now, if an owner is caught with a dog off-leash, he or she will be slapped with a hefty fine and a day in court — no warnings. The fine is $250-$500 for a first offense, $500-$750 for a second offense; and $750-$1,000 for each subsequent offense.

“We’ve always enforced it, but we haven’t really cracked down like it is now,” said Master Cpl. Michel Eckerd, spokesman for New Castle County police. “People are going to be running, riding bikes, riding horses in Carousel Park and other parks, and the dog at large seems to be a big problem.”

Eckerd said officers are simply trying to avoid accidents and injuries.

“It’s not saying that the dogs aren’t trained well … for my dog, that’s trained really well, if she sees a squirrel, she’s going to totally forget about everything,” he said. “Well if that happens at a parkland, then that person on the bicycle could possibly fall off the bike, wreck, because the dog ran out in front of them, the dog went after them or the same thing as a person on a horse.”

Officers have been warning park visitors for a few weeks now about the new hard-line stance.

Dog owner Elizabeth Petillo said she thinks the fines are excessive, but she understands why the county code needs to be enforced.

Elizabeth Petillo and her dog Dusty at Talley Day Park north of Wilmington. (Shirley Min/WHYY)

“It should be in increments — $50, $100,” said Elizabeth Petillo, who was with her dog Dusty at Talley Day Park in North Wilmington. “But it’s a common-sense thing, and people should know better any way.”

Diane Clawson, who was walking her small dog in Carousel Park on Tuesday, said she supports the crackdown.

“If you don’t fine them, they’re just going to keep doing it if they just get a warning,” Clawson said. “I’m afraid of a lot of dogs, so when they’re on leashes, I’m much more comfortable. Mine stays on a leash, and I think the rest of them should.”

Eckerd said the strict enforcement is countywide, but that officers are targeting parklands. Dogs running loose in designated bark parks would be exempt.

Eckerd said its still too early to know how many dog owners, if any, have been cited.

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