So, the other day, I was strolling along the Haul Road, minding my own business, when suddenly a medium-size dog loomed out of nowhere and started barking and snapping at me, with no owner in sight. I was, understandably, not comfortable with this situation, so I was holding my ground and looking for some sort of weapon to hold it at bay when suddenly a person appeared and started screaming at me for upsetting the dog.
Uhm, excuse me?
So, here’s the thing. Here in California, we have leash laws. Put simply, if there is a dog which is not in someone’s yard, a leash must be attached to it, and the other end of that leash must be in a human’s hand. There are a lot of reasons for leash laws. One reason is to keep dogs from worrying livestock. One reason is to make sure that dogs are fully controlled so that they don’t attack people or other dogs. And another reason is to make sure that people feel comfortable when they are walking in public, because if you see a dog and you don’t know the dog or the owner and the dog is unleashed, you might be forgiven for feeling uneasy, especially if it’s a big dog. Dogs can severely injure or kill people. Especially in the case of people who have been attacked by dogs in the past, encountering a strange dog which is not on a leash can be a very stressful experience.
“Oh,” but dog owners say. “My dog is fine. My dog is very well trained and would never attack, so I don’t need to keep it on a leash.”
Actually, you do. You need to keep your dog on the leash because it is the law. And, you need to keep your dog on the leash because dogs are unpredictable. Even the most well trained dog can lose it on occasion, and a perfect storm of circumstances could end up with a situation in which someone (human or non-human animal) ended up injured or dead. If you love your dog so much, you should want to protect it from this.
I have been bitten and attacked by unleashed dogs. I’ve lost livestock to dogs. I’ve met lots of people who have experienced one or both of these things, and I’ve noticed that all of the dog owners in this group keep their dogs securely leashed at all times. Unless the dogs are on private property and permission is given to take the leash off, or the dogs are in an off-leash dog park. At all other times, the dog is tightly within their control. On a leash.
Yet, other dog owners apparently feel that the law doesn’t apply to them. And they have the audacity to suggest that it is your fault when their out of control dogs attack you. (Curiously, it’s always poorly trained dogs that are left off-leash. Well trained dogs are always kept secure on the leash.) This dog owner who was freaking out at me freaked out even more when I pointed out that the dog should be on a leash, and that if the State Parks budget wasn’t stretched so thin, a Ranger would already have issued a warning and possibly a ticket about the dog being loose. I suggested that the dog be brought under control or I would call law enforcement.
As we all know, I don’t really like dogs. But, to be honest, I dislike irresponsible dog owners even more. People who are reckless, people who don’t obey the leash laws, they piss me off. They piss me off because I think about people who have been severely mauled by dogs, and how traumatizing it would have been for one of them to encounter an out of control dog while going on a walk on a supposedly safe public trail. They piss me off because I think about young children being traumatized by an aggressive off-leash dog. They piss me off because I think about how a leashed dog could have been attacked and injured, about how wildlife in the area could have been frightened off or injured, about how livestock might be injured or killed. And, yes, they piss me off because I think about what might happen if the unleashed dog walks out into traffic, or gets itself into another dangerous situation.
I kind of put dogs and children in the same class, here: it’s not safe to assume that everyone likes either, and it’s not safe to assume that other people bear responsibility for controlling and protecting either. Bad things happen to poorly controlled dogs and children. They shouldn’t, but they do. Parents and dog owners who actually care about the creatures they have taken responsibility for don’t put them in dangerous positions. (Uhm, I am not suggesting that all children be kept on leashes, incidentally.)
Obviously, people are not allowed to use physical force against uncontrolled children, primarily because there’s nothing to defend themselves from, since children aren’t much of a threat, physically. (And I’m not saying that people should go around randomly assaulting out of control children.)
[Edited to add: The above paragraphs are extremely problematic. They’ve been left in the original post because, well, I said them. I shouldn’t have, but I did. And I don’t erase the record of my foulups. So, let’s revise. Here’s what I was actually trying to say, and failed at: “It’s not safe to assume that everyone likes dogs, or that everyone is willing to take responsibility for a dog when it’s not clear if someone is around to look after the dog. It’s unfortunate that this is the case, but bad things happen to dogs which are not being looked after. They shouldn’t, but they do. Dog owners who care about their dogs should not put them in dangerous positions.” There actually was a reason that I brought children into the discussion, although they should not have been, but I don’t really want to go into it here, because it has much more to do with me personally and the ways in which my brain work than it does with the substance of the post, which is that dogs should not be allowed off leash.]
But people are allowed to defend themselves and their property from an off-leash dog. Livestock owners, for example, are allowed to shoot first and ask questions later. And I would have been well within my right to take aggressive physical action if that dog on the Haul Road had bitten me. I would also have been well within my right to call Animal Control and demand that the dog be put down or placed in immediate quarantine, because of rabies.
Keeping dogs leashed isn’t just about obeying the law and protecting society. It’s also about protecting the dog. And it’s time that people started keeping this in mind, because I am getting really sick of being unable to walk on the streets in town without being attacked by dogs, without having my shoes fouled by dog shit carelessly left on the sidewalk, and without being glared at by dog owners who have the gall to be upset when I appear uneasy around unleashed dogs or even occasionally point out that they are breaking the law, endangering others, and endangering their dogs (to say nothing of endangering my shoes).