What may local governments do to prevent owners from letting their animals roam without a leash?


Become involved in enforcing the state’s limited restrictions on animals running at-large

There is no statewide leash law in North Carolina, but there are two provisions that limit dogs running at-large. One statute prohibits persons from allowing dogs to run at large, but it only applies during the night. Another prohibits “bitches…during the erotic stage of copulation” to run at-large. A violation of either law is a Class 3 misdemeanor. There is also a law that authorizes the Wildlife Resources Commission to kill and seize dogs in wildlife management areas under certain circumstances.

Statutory authority: G.S. §§ 67.2; 67-12; 67-14.1

Adopt a local leash ordinance

Because the state laws are far from comprehensive, many cities and counties have enacted local leash laws. Without a local leash ordinance, animal control
officers have limited authority to pick up stray animals. They generally must rely on their rabies enforcement authority to pick up those stray cats or dogs that do not have vaccination tags. A few examples of local ordinances follow.

Any dog or cat that is not confined as provided in this article, and not under the actual physical control or restraint of its owner, leaseholder or keeper, shall be presumed to be running at large. Any animal control officer shall impound such animal at the animal shelter. It shall be a violation of this article for any dog or cat running at large off its owner's or keeper's property to bite any person so as to break such person's skin. A first offense shall subject such owner or keeper to a civil penalty of $250.00. A second offense shall subject such owner or keeper to a civil penalty of $500.00. A third offense shall subject such owner or keeper to a civil penalty of $1,000.00. (City of Fayetteville, § 6-77)It shall be unlawful for any owner to permit any animal belonging to him to run at large upon the streets of the city. (City of Winston-Salem, §6-2)

It shall be unlawful for any person owning, keeping, possessing or maintaining a dog in this county to intentionally or negligently allow the dog to run at large.

  1. If an animal control officer receives a first-time at large complaint and the officer does not personally observe the dog at large,the officer shall investigate the complaint. Upon finding probable cause to believe the dog was at large he shall issue a first civil penalty in accordance with section 4-9.
  2. If an animal control officer personally observes a dog at large animal control may seize and impound the animal and shall issue the appropriate civil penalty in accordance with section 4-9.
  3. Nothing in this article shall prevent a private citizen from bringing an action against the owner of an animal, which has caused injury to the private citizen or his property, for damages or any other loss resulting from an animal being at large. (Durham County, § 4-86 to -87).

Cities have specific statutory authority to enact local leash ordinances but counties must rely on their general ordinance making power.

Statutory authority: G.S. §§ 153A-121; 160A-186

Relevant laws