GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- For many pet owners, their dog is an important member of the family. They eat dinner together, vacation with the family and even appear in Christmas cards. Fido becomes a furry, but treasured part of the household.

But, even owners who love their hound can neglect an essential part of dog safety: leashes.

Loose and stray dogs have become a worrisome problem in the Bavaria Military Community. Dogs who get out of the yard or, unleashed, bolt from their owners, pose threats to themselves and the community.

For these reasons, the Grafenwoehr Pet Policy requires that dogs be leashed anytime they are outside the home or designated off-leash park.

"Dogs, at all times, need to stay on a leash unless they are in your residence. And the other exception is the new dog parks," said Master Sgt. Gary Bradon, USAG Grafenwoehr installation coordinator. "As soon as you're there, you can unleash them and let them run around."

Along with adhering to policy, leashing dogs keeps them, and others, safe.

Wandering and unleashed dogs may be injured or killed. Pets can get in fights with other strays or be bitten by a wild animal, which can lead to infections and other diseases, particularly rabies.

"Italy has had a rapid rabies outbreak along with some of the Eastern European countries around Germany," said Capt. Annie Eure, officer in charge of the Vilseck Veterinary Treatment Facility, Public Health Command District-North Europe.

Eure explained that foxes and other wild animals can cross national boarders, bringing rabies along with them.

"It's a horrific, nonpreventable death," she continued.

Loose dogs may also breed, picking up venereal diseases in the act. Of course, cars and trains can strike pets, too.

If a dog doesn't get injured while roving, it can wind up hurting another pet or person. Even gentle pets will turn aggressive when they feel intimidated or scared.

On the garrison, dog bites are increasingly becoming a problem.

According to Eure, the veterinary clinic can "receive anywhere between two and three bite reports per month."

Once a person is bit, it's the dog owner's responsibility to cover all medical costs for the bitten and quarantine costs for the dog. Moreover, pet owners are liable for any costs and damages incurred from a loose dog.

If a driver swerves to keep from hitting an off-leash pet and crashes, the pet owner must fork over for medical bills and any damage to property. Even if the driver hits the pet, the owner is still responsible for any harm caused to the car or the people inside.

Along with breeching policy, wandering dogs can wreak havoc on their neighbors, their owners and themselves.

A Facebook vigilante named Diana Sweide took measures into her own hands.

Fed up with insufficient education on pet ownership and the constant stream of roaming dogs in her neighborhood in Netzaberg, Sweide started the DogCommunityGrafenwoehr Facebook page.

Sweide's Facebook page serves as a resource to the pet community, answering questions for newcomers and keeping dog owners abreast of the garrison standards and policy.

"I educate. I try to support the responsible pet ownership campaign," she said.

So far, the page has been successful in providing an accessible resource for inquiring pet owners and with matching lost dogs with their owners.

DogCommunityGrafenwoehr serves as a "lost and found" for roaming dogs, as well. Community members post notices on the page when they've lost or found a pooch, with the hope that others will provide the information to return the dog home.

These lost dog incidents, explained Sweide, could largely be avoided by taking measures to keep dogs on leashes and in yards.

"It's respect for the community."

For more information on pet policies in the Bavaria Military Community, visit, click on the "Newcomers" tab and then click "Pets."