Lurch on a leash?

Published 9:56 am Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Warren Gillis and his dog, Lurch, are a common sight around the Austin area: the towering, docile Great Dane attracts attention both for his size and the badges on his harness explaining his role as a service dog.

But because of an omission in the city ordinance, Gillis was issued a citation for having his dog off a leash.

Gillis approached the Austin City Council Monday night with his issue although his citation had been waived when he pleaded his case.

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Lurch is a service dog for Gillis, who has a neurological disorder. He has also visited nursing homes and other facilities as a therapy dog.

“Police dogs” or “seeing eye (guide) dogs” are cited in the ordinance, but not the spectrum of service dogs — those who help people with impairments other than hearing or sight.

Gillis, who has been involved with service dog training for many years, said that “as long as they’re under control and not harming anyone” they should be allowed off leashes.

“When he’s doing his job, he’s off his leash,” Gillis explained after calling him up to the front by the podium, where Lurch sat politely on a chair before the council.

City attorney David Hoversten said Gillis’s suggestion is a “standard that’s reasonable, particularly for circumstances like this.”

The city will amend its ordinance to allow service dogs to remain off their leashes when necessary.