SOME READERS may have missed a small item in the Montgomery Extra section of The Post this week that alerted dog owners to what is, essentially, a new building code for doghouses. Such shelters, county law now dictates, must be built "at least two inches off the ground," of wood or fiberglass, containing "nonabsorbing bedding such as wood chips or straw," with an entrance protected by an overhang, and so on. Violators are subject to a fine of $500 on first offense and $750 on second and subsequent offenses.

"Ah, Nanny Montgomery," we hear you saying, "at it again." This is, after all, the goody-goody government that wanted, a few years back, to adopt a leash law for cats and that has spent considerable energy debating how zealously to force homeowners to shovel the sidewalks in front of their property. No surprise, then, that the county can't simply proscribe dog chains that are too heavy to be healthy; in Montgomery, it is forbidden to use "a tether that weighs more than 1/8 of the dog's body weight." Not enough to say the tether must be of reasonable length; it must be at least "five times the length of the dog, as measured from the tip of its nose to the base of its tail." No one may tether a dog between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. "unless the Director grants a waiver based on extraordinary circumstances." And no one may tether a dog in ways that lead to "demonstrable socialization problems."

In truth, though, these regulations may say as much about these argumentative, litigious times as about any particular jurisdiction. Montgomery set out to update its animal control laws with two reasonable goals: protecting people from dangerous pets and protecting pets from abusive people. The project took years because, as one county official notes, "the only thing more emotional than animals is youth sports." The cat-leash fight, in which feline defenders eventually bested wild-bird lovers, was only the beginning. In formulating the regulations on dog care, the county had to navigate between some County Council members and animal rights activists, who wanted to ban all outdoor tethering, and some pet owners, who didn't believe the county had any right to interfere at all. Those regulations alone required more than a year of "shuttle diplomacy," county official William Mooney said; the first version was rejected by the County Council for being too lax on unsupervised nighttime tethering.

A spokesman for County Executive Douglas M. Duncan stresses that inspectors won't be going door to door measuring the distance from the ground to your doghouse floor. The regulations need a certain level of "specificity," the spokesman said, simply to give authorities the ability to protect obviously abused animals. As with all regulations, "90 percent of what you write applies to 10 percent" of cases, Mr. Mooney notes. Still, when we asked a responsible police official whether the county would, in fact, be weighing leashes and inspecting overhangs, he wasn't giving away any law enforcement strategy. "The officer will examine the conditions and take actions as appropriate," the police captain said. Consider yourself warned.