It may come as a surprise to some, but not everyone is comfortable around dogs. This includes not just humans who feel anxious or uneasy around dogs — or simply aren’t big fans of them — but also a variety of animal species, some of whom are threatened or endangered. That’s one reason why many communities have restrictions on dogs, including requirements that they be leashed, with the exception of designated off leash areas, and in some cases, that they not be permitted at all.
Dogs are dogs, and people have dogs in their lives for lots of different reasons. I view them as working animals, so I’m always surprised when I see them as pets, but people who do keep them as pets often have a deep attachment to them, which is something I respect. However, that deep attachment sometimes veers over into disrupting other people’s quality of life, in addition to causing environmental problems, and that’s where I have to draw the line. Dogs are not in fact welcome everywhere, and dog guardians need to accept that.
The vast majority, it should be clear, do, understanding where and why their dogs are not acceptable, or at least being willing to follow policy even if they don’t necessarily agree with it all the time. Others, however, do not, and their entitled, aggressive, and sometimes actively nasty attitudes really ruin things for everyone, including dog guardians who are responsible and want to collaborate with the law, rather than working in opposition to it.
Some reasons dogs might need to be leashed: It’s a public and highly trafficked area, with people, children, and others who might be nervous around dogs, especially with the risk that a dog could become aggressive and hurt someone. Other dogs in that area could also be aggressive, or scared if they are leashed and an unleashed dog approaches. Dogs could also be endangered if there are cars or heavy equipment around. These are all pretty solid reasons to ask dog people to keep their animals under their control.
Some other reasons dogs might need to be leashed: An area is environmentally sensitive, and things like digging, defecating, and scratching could upset the delicate balance of a fragile area or a region undergoing restoration. This is especially true in areas where endangered or threatened species live, as many are susceptible to minor environmental disruptions in addition to being vulnerable to dog attacks — take the snowy plover, found on some parts of the West Coast. The ground-nesting bird is an easy target for dogs, and it’s why some beaches have areas off-limits to dogs (and sometimes people as well).
Dogs, by and large, are accepted in a huge range of public locations. On the streets, along many walking trails, even in some businesses. There are a few places where they are not, and this is okay…at least, by the standards of the vast majority of people. Those who disagree with restrictions on dogs seem to follow certain profiles, including the tendency to be middle class to wealthy, and a trend towards whiteness. They are members of groups who are used to getting their way, and who are upset when they do not.
The controversy over dogs in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is a classic example. When the government attempted to set some reasonable policies to address environmental and quality of life concerns in the park, given that all kinds of people and animals use it, they were met with extremely stiff opposition by dog owners. During the public comment period — during which anyone has a right to comment on proposed rules and regulations, which is entirely reasonable — some dog people flooded the lines with wrathful comments on how dogs should not only be allowed everywhere, but also should be permitted off leash in many areas, including snowy plover nesting sites.
Officials took this feedback into consideration, as they are bound to do, but still felt that environmental and social interests had to be balanced, and that dogs did not have exclusive use of the park, nor did their people. The result was a lawsuit.
This really highlighted a source of extreme frustration for me, because entitled dog owners need to accept that their dogs are not welcome everywhere, and that being entitled annoys everyone. This means that people are less likely to accommodate dogs, because people tend to dig in their heels in the face of obnoxious entitled people. If the goal is to open an area up to dogs, it’s going to be much more difficult. And it means that perfectly reasonable dog people who do agree that there are some areas where they don’t belong run into trouble when they’re trying to navigate the world. This is really not okay, and it needs to stop.
Dog people need to accept that their sense of entitlement does not outweigh the fact that there are lots of different, shared, and sometimes conflicting pressures on public resources. Sometimes those pressures involve making personal sacrifices to some degree or another, and we all agree to make those sacrifices because we benefit collectively even if some of us experience inconveniences. I agree that my car does not belong everywhere, so I am fine with permanent or temporary street closures. I agree that my cats do not belong everywhere, so I don’t carry them with me wherever they go. I accept that people don’t want me to talk through movies, so I don’t do it. I am aware that I need to moderate my speech in some places — such as around babies who might wake up if I talk at full volume — so I do. We all make a choice to collectively contribute to the common good, and those who do not are selfish.
So what’s it going to be, dog owners? Do you want to be selfish, or do you want to make things easier for everyone — including yourselves, when you really do have an imperative for access or want to make space for a dog park?
Image: Snowy Plover on Nest, Florida Fish and Wildlife, Flickr