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Nanny State of the Week: Common sense goes to the dogs in Phoenix

By   /   July 25, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 89 of 121 in the series Nanny State of the Week

Phoenix wants you to be smarter about walking your dog in extreme heat. Kind of. Sort of.

The City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Board voted late last month to ban hikers from taking their dogs on city trails in temperatures over 100 degrees. In the average year, highs in Phoenix surpass 100 degrees on 107 days out of 365.

A similar ban on human hikers hitting the trails in heat over 110 degrees failed, so at least the nannies who run Phoenix are exercising some restraint.

Source: Wiki Commons

DESERT DOGS: Phoenix is too hot in the summertime to trust dog owners to take care of their own pets, city officials have decided.

But their assumption is that the humans are too stupid to take care of their own dogs, so the city will do it for them.

But not really. Because while the board voted to ban hot-weather walks for pooches, it also announced it wouldn’t really enforce the ban.

The idea behind the pilot program is that banning dogs from traversing the city’s 200 miles of trails in extreme heat will encourage owners to restrict their pets’ exercise on blistering days, as the American Humane Society recommends.

Dogs don’t deal with the heat as well as humans, so while a human hiker might feel fine — a somewhat dubious assumption, as anyone who has hiked in an Arizona summer can attest — his fluffy companion could be overheating without being able to say so.

“It’s really kind of an unfortunate situation that drastic measures have to be taken since we know that there are so many responsible pet owners out there, but we appreciate the city’s efforts to protect pets,” said Bretta Nelson, a spokesperson for the Arizona Humane Society, in an interview with Watchdog. “Our hope is that it really offers results.”

Chris DeRose, senior litigation council for the Arizona Attorney General and a candidate for Phoenix City Council, said that while a ban on human hikers would be an attempt to “legislate stupidity out of existence,” a rule protecting dogs is appropriate. “Animals just don’t have the discretion to do something or not,” he told Watchdog.

All bark, no bite

A dog-walking ban might make a tincture of sense if city officials had any evidence that pets were being abused in such a manner. If they have it, they aren’t sharing it.

(Kim Leeds via AP)

PAW PROTECTOR: Bo, an Australian shepherd, walks on cement in Phoenix wearing special booties, one of the many ways dog owners in the desert city responsibly care for their own animals without being nagged by government.

And it might make sense if Phoenix dog owners were irretrievably stupid. No evidence of that, either.

And it might make sense if the city actually planned to enforce the ban.

But they don’t.

In an interview with Watchdog, Gregg Bach, a spokesman for Phoenix Parks and Recreation, described the new rule as an extension of his department’s commitment to educating the public about safe use of the trails.

Bach said that taking Fido on the trails in 100+ degree weather would be a class 1 misdemeanor, which could result in a fine of up to $2,500 and even jail time – the same as breaking any other park rule.

“We need something behind the educational methods that has some consequences behind it,” Bach said. Then added, “we’re not approaching this as a punitive thing.”

For now, education means media coverage, social media, temporary signs at the city’s 41 trailheads, and patrolling rangers at some locations.

“Rangers are city staff,” Bach explained. “They don’t serve as law enforcement. They can’t arrest, but they can issue citations. But mostly they are educational.”

Such a plan has the same logic as a sign reading, “Beware of dog! All bark, no bite! Loves strangers! Please don’t rob us! Back door unlocked.”

“This isn’t the reason we have the criminal code,” DeRose said, drawing on his experience as a prosecutor. “It’s not there to give suggestions. Even if you didn’t really have a budget or a plan to enforce it, why announce it? One of the reasons the criminal code is there is to deter criminal conduct. It’s not going to have a deterrent effect if you tell the public you’re not going to enforce it.”

In the topsy-turvy world of the Nanny State, educating people on responsible pet ownership means making new rules to protect dogs and then not really enforcing them.

This story first appeared in the American Spectator.

Part of 121 in the series Nanny State of the Week
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  3. Skim is in: CT lawmakers want to ban whole milk in day cares
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  5. Nanny state of the week: SC — and Schumer — for duplicative efforts to ban powdered alcohol
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Grant Broadhurst is a summer 2016 Journalism Intern for Watchdog.org.