Dogs are said to be man’s best friend. Many women also get along well with dogs, and quite a few men prefer cats.

Dogs can be good and dogs can be bad. Let’s consider the law for dogs in Seattle.

Leash Laws

Dogs have to be on a leash in most places. Cats do not.

Excluding cats from the leash law appears to be a rare example of intelligent lawmaking, as anyone who has seen a cat on a leash can attest.

The Seattle Municipal Code (SMC) says it is unlawful to “permit any animal, except cats and pigeons, to be at large or trespass upon the property of another.” (SMC 9.25.084(A)). Apparently pigeons, like cats, do not take well to leashes.

The code defines "at large" as “not under control by a leash” with a maximum length of eight feet. (SMC 9.25.020(E))

Well-trained dogs who carry their own leashes arguably comply with this law.

Bussing Dogs

Dogs are allowed on Metro Buses. In fact, service animals and lap dogs ride free. Large dogs pay the same fare as their owners.

 Scoop Laws

Most people know to pick up dog poop on public property. (SMC 9.25.082(B)) But did you know that the law requires picking up dog and cat feces on your own property “at least once every 24 hours”? (SMC 9.25.082(A)) I wonder how many tickets are issued for that.

Interestingly, owners of “service dogs” are exempted from scooping on public property, but not on their own property. (SMC 9.25.082)

Noise Laws

You can’t let your dog “bark, whine, howl or otherwise vocalize” if it annoys “an entire community or neighborhood.” (SMC 9.25.084(D)(2) and SMC 25.08.280)

Strict Liability for Dog Bites

An owner is responsible for a dog that bites a person in public or even in the dog’s own yard or house, if the person is there “lawfully”, “regardless of the former viciousness of such dog or the owner's knowledge of such viciousness.” (RCW 16.08.040).

Owners are also responsible for a dog injuring or killing any other animal, including another dog. (RCW 16.08.010)

Strict liability means that a dog owner is almost always on the hook for a dog’s acts— even when irresponsible people are injured.

For instance, in a case against a dog owner, the state supreme court held it was improper to consider negligence on the part of a motorcycle rider with a child sitting on his gas tank who crashed when an allegedly vicious cocker spaniel ran into the street. (Johnston v. Ohls, 76 Wn.2d 398 (1969))

This brings up the importance of dog owners having homeowner’s or renter’s insurance.

Most policies will cover dogs, though it’s a good idea to read your policy, especially if you have a “guard dog” breed.

In fact, for certain dogs, Seattle requires proof of insurance as well as a guard dog license. (SMC 9.25.054)


If it seems cruel, it’s probably illegal in Seattle. I am highlighting only a few definitions of cruelty:

  • Teasing any animal “with the intent to cause destructive behavior, fear or hostility”;
  • Trapping or poisoning animals (except rodents and slugs);
  • Facilitating or even watching an “exhibition of an animal in combat with any other animal”; and
  • Failing “to provide medical care that is necessary for your animal’s health or to alleviate its pain.” (SMC 9.25.081).

Crime Prevention

While abused dogs are crime victims, dogs likely prevent many crimes, especially violent crimes. What mugger wouldn’t prefer a lone victim to a person accompanied by a dog?

A dog need not be aggressive to serve as a crime deterrent. Though size may matter in some settings, many small dogs have big barks.

Stan is Love

Finally, let me share the motivation for this article— my puppy Stan who, as I wrote this, gleefully ripped out all the low voltage safety lighting in my backyard. And yet, I still feel safe and, of course, loved…




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