Columns 2003

Loose dogs a danger to themselves and others

I am, by anyone’s definition, a rabid animal lover.  Probably 90% of my charitable donations, financial or otherwise, go to animal rescue organizations. St. Francis of Assisi is my idea of the perfect man. And to this day I can’t watch Bambi because I get so hysterical at the thought of that little deer being all alone.

I am just as rabid in my belief that owning a companion animal comes with certain responsibilities that are non-negotiable.  You are responsible for seeing that they do not reproduce unless you are breeding them for a specific purpose.  You are responsible for feeding them and making sure they have as much water as they need. You are responsible for giving them the love, affection and attention that we have bred companion animals to crave.

And you are responsible for their safety in a world where their safety is not always a given.

I take my dog for long runs and walks every day. I get on my trusty tricycle and he gets in the basket till we get beyond the neighborhood and into a wooded area.  I do this so that he doesn’t mess on people’s lawns or on bike paths and sidewalks. 

When he does get out of his basket, he’s on a long lead.  He’s on this lead because when we are outside he has the attention span of a gnat.  In the house, he’s great. But that’s because he’s figured out he has no where to go. He knows there is no escape so he might as well stay when I tell him to or come when I give that command.  And even in my house his attention is gone in a nanosecond if the birds squawk or a leaf drops outside the window.

When we are outside, he knows he not only can escape, but if he does, I will chase him. What great fun.  Why should he stay or come when instead we can play all over the neighborhood with me running after him and begging him to come back and him waiting till I am just within arm’s reach and then bounding away.  I know this about my dog so I don’t ever let him out unless he is leashed.

I also know that he doesn’t like other dogs and will bark and get aggressive if he sees them coming. So I make it a point to pull him up short and keep him close to me when we pass other dogs.  That way he’s safe, I’m safe and the other person walking their dog is safe. That’s responsible dog ownership.

Here’s what is not responsible dog ownership.  Letting you dog loose in your unfenced yard, or in your fenced yard with the gate open. Standing at that gate calling uselessly to him while he bounds down the road after the lady on the funny bike who is holding a barking snarling bundle in her arms that she has just snatched up from the road while trying to steer with her chin.

If your dog is paying no attention to you, guess what?  You have no control over him. Standing there yelling at me that he’s friendly and I shouldn’t worry doesn’t cut it. My dog isn’t friendly. Your dog is very big. My dog is little. If your dog gets annoyed at my dog’s aggressive barking, he will easily be able to kill my dog. Since he happens to be in my arms at that point, there is every chance I will get hurt in the scuffle.

My daily bike ride has turned into an obstacle course. I have to know which house has which loose dog and be on the alert for when I have to jump off the bike and scoop my dog up in my arms.  I come back from some of these rides and any health benefits that might accrue have been totally wiped out by the fact that my blood pressure has reached stroke proportions.

So do your dog and your neighbors a favor. Keep them under your control by keeping them in your yard with the gate closed or on a leash. I’m pretty sure it’s the law. And I’m absolutely sure it’s the minimum one should expect from a responsible dog owner.

Because the reality is that your dog is not under your control if he doesn’t pay attention when he’s excited. And if he’s not under your control and darts out of the yard to chase me, he may not see that car coming down the road.  And then you won’t have to worry about responsible dog ownership. Your dog will be dead.