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Why are hunting dogs allowed to run loose when other people have to have their dogs on a leash?

Hunters release dogs while deer hunting in northeastern Pender County in December 1995. StarNews file photo.

Q. Why are hunters hunting with dogs allowed to let their dogs run loose when other people have to have their dogs on a leash? Most counties have leash laws.

A. Counties like Pender County, New Hanover, and Brunswick counties have either leash or animal restraint laws, but they do provide exceptions to hunting dogs while those dogs are engaging in hunting activity.

Generally, in Brunswick County, any animal found off its owner’s property and not under physical restraint of a competent person will be deemed at large. If an animal has been the subject of a previous at-large complaint, it will be deemed “at large” if found unrestrained on the owner’s property.

Hunting dogs may be unleashed while in the act of hunting. However, Thomas Tolley, First Sergeant with Brunswick County’s Sheriff’s Office, indicates that those owning hunting dogs are not able to simply let their dogs run free without adhering to certain regulation.

“There are guidelines,” Tolley said. “It’s not like they can just free run because they are hunting dogs. I think that’s what some people may be under the impression of that just because it’s a hound it can run, but it still has to fall under certain (guidelines).”

For one, Tolley said, hunting dogs “must be under the control of a licensed hunter while in the act of hunting.” The owner of the dog must have a hunting license as required by the state of North Carolina, and may only use the dogs to hunt during designated seasons for game or type of hunting they are participating in. “If the average person lets their dog out at night and says, ‘Oh, he was hunting,’ that’s not good enough,” Tolley said.

Tolley says Brunswick has various hunting clubs, and he thinks most of hunters using hunting dogs act responsibly. “A lot of those hunters have tracking collars or GPS collars that are following those dogs so that they know where they are at all times. So they are under surveillance,” he said.

Other exceptions to the Brunswick County leash law are when the animal is in a secured enclosure or within a vehicle, in a dog show, or field trial.

Pender County doesn’t currently have a “leash law,” but animals are still required to be restrained from running free when off of property. “At a minimum the animal must be under voice control anywhere in the county,” said Pender County Sheriff Carson Smith.

According to Pender County’s ordinance in section 3-6, “It shall be unlawful for any owner or keeper of a dog or cat to allow it to run at large in the county.” It exempts hunting dogs while they are hunting “as long as they are under the supervision of the owner or keeper.”

The ordinance deems an animal to be at large when it is “off the property of its owner, off of leased property of its owner, off of property for which the owner has permission for the animal to be on, and is not under the restraint of the owner or his designee.”

In Pender animals are considered restrained under the ordinance when it is controlled by a chain, leash, electronic device; is within or on a vehicle driven or under the control of the owner or his agent; is locked within a secure enclosure or owner’s dwelling and cannot exit without assistance; or is under voice control.

New Hanover County’s leash requires that dogs be on a leash at all times, but hunting dogs also have an exemption when hunting.

According to the county ordinance, a dog is restrained when it is controlled by an attended leash, or is on or within a vehicle, or is within a secure enclosure.

There are a few exceptions to the required restraint, including “organized and lawful dog functions; e.g., dog exercise within designated areas of public parks, hunting, obedience training…”

Otherwise, a dog must be maintained securely on the owner’s property.

Ropes and chains are prohibited.


What are my rights to retrieve my hunting dogs if they run onto someone else’s posted land?

Is there a New Hanover County countywide leash law, including parks and all beaches?





User-contributed question by:
Susan Wolfson

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