Montgomery County dog owners must now keep their animals leashed in county parks and other public places under a new law adopted this week by the County Council.
Before the law was passed, leashing was not required in Montgomery County as long as a dog was under its owner's verbal or non-verbal control.
"That was a huge loophole," said Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville), who heads the public safety committee, which recommended the bill's passage. "Dogs are unpredictable," and the law was necessary to protect kids and vulnerable adults, he said.
Council member Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large) said there is a tendency to let dogs run free at public parks.
"We've received complaints," he said. "Not all Montgomery County residents have the same pleasant interactions with dogs."
Under the new law, which takes effect immediately, a dog must be leashed in public places unless it is in a designated dog exercise area or participating in an activity such as a dog hunt, where it is supervised. Fines begin at $100 for the first offense and go up to $500.
The county has three dog exercise areas: Black Hill Regional Park, Ridge Road Recreational Park and Wheaton Regional Park. Officials are considering establishing additional exercise areas.
The law also prohibits the sale or trade of animals in public places, such as at flea markets or in front of animal shelters, and it allows animal control officers to implant microchips in impounded animals or in those that pose a public danger.
The council also unanimously passed a bill making it illegal for a person to urinate or defecate in public.
The bill was prompted by business owners in Wheaton and along Flower Avenue in Takoma Park, who complained of a chronic problem of public urination near their businesses.
Previously, police officers could not issue a citation or arrest someone because urinating in public was not a crime, nor did it fall under the categories of "indecent exposure" or "disorderly conduct."
"It was a surprise to a lot of people that we did not have a law in place," said Andrews, who said surrounding jurisdictions, such as Prince George's County, Baltimore County and the city of Frederick have such laws in place. Gaithersburg also has a public-urination law. Violation of the county law is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or arrest. Officials said it will be effective within the next two weeks.