This is an Op-Ed piece Published in the Wilkes Barre Times Leader on Sunday February 8th, 2015: I post it here in all of its unedited glory.
Though I live in suburbia, I don’t own a dog. Because of this, my canine-loving friends accuse me of hating dogs. That hurts me. I grew up with dogs and liked them. I have just never needed to own one as an adult. I consider myself to be kind of “dog agnostic” more than anything else. I have never been sure why.
I noticed online recently the headline: “Indiana man mauled to death by his pit bull”. Apparently he was at home alone with their 2 pit bulls when one of them, named somewhat ironically “Fat Boy”, attempted to make a meal of him. Allow me to quote the article:
“Rodriguez (the widow) said the family had never before had problems with the dog but in a police report the responding officer wrote that Cahill (the victim) had been told to euthanize the dog because it was violent and unpredictable.
But Rodriguez told WGNtv.com that was not true. (No, I think that was about right)
“They were playful dogs,” she said. “One slept with the girls and the other slept with me and my husband.
“I don’t want people to think bad of pit bulls. It was a freak accident. He loved the dogs.”
So she doesn’t want anyone to think “bad” of pit bulls. Except that one just killed her husband… which is after all, pretty bad. Also, are the police suddenly given to randomly telling people to euthanize their dogs, or perhaps was “Fat Boy” just a touch “edgy”?
Why are people so blind about their pets?
And then I realized something profound. I don’t hate dogs. It’s the owners that drive me nuts.
I often hike and photograph the various state parks in the region. In Pennsylvania state parks, there is a rule that dogs are supposed to be on a lead and under control of the owners. Often they are; many people use retractable leashes that give the dog some freedom, but can be reined in when necessary. I appreciate this greatly. I will often stop and talk to such owners and pet the dog. I’d want to hike with my dog (If I didn’t apparently hate dogs).
But a significant number of people ignore this rule. They will let their dogs loose, to range far ahead, where they encounter me. Very occasionally the dog approaching is obviously friendly, and I will pet them until their owners arrive.
More commonly however they approach me warily, barking and with teeth bared, growling. This is a distinctly unpleasant experience. Sadly, the dog is merely acting instinctively; it is the idiot owners that provoke these episodes.
When the owners show up, they inevitably say:” Oh he’s fine, he’s friendly”. “Friendly” my *ss. The dog likely thinks it’s defending its owner. I get that. It just doesn’t even slightly improve the experience.
Worse yet, I have also been charged by multiple large canines over the years, including a pair of nasty looking Staffordshires that frankly, scared the crap out of me. This particular incident, and others, helped me to formulate the rule that: the more aggressive the dog, the more rude/defiant the owner when, once my heart rate drops below 150, I remind them of the park rules.
Occasionally these encounters escalate further, resulting in a nip or even a bite which inevitably provokes the second inane owner comment: “Oh, I’ve never seen him do that before!” usually delivered with a measure of faux concern. Do they think I’m an idiot? Maybe you haven’t seen your precious pooch do that in the last 10 minutes, but I’m betting he’s he tasted human flesh before.
Now if not terrorizing your fellow citizens is insufficient reason for dog owners to follow the rules, let me put this in terms even the selfish can understand. Using a leash protects your dog and ultimately you, from harm.
First, in Penn’s Woods, there are many things likely to be highly detrimental to your canine friends. There are bigger dogs, also unleashed, and similarly ill-tempered. There are big male bears, and sows with cubs. There are coyotes, often in groups that love to dine on house pets. There are skunks and porcupines. There might even be a mountain lion or two. So when you let your pooch run ahead on the trail, who knows what lurks?
Also there are humans, in fact, humans with weapons. In wilderness areas I talk to a fair number of people carrying holstered pistols, in part because of the very problem we’re discussing. Then there’s a grouchy, allegedly dog-hating photographer/writer who carries a three pound pointy-tipped 6 foot steel monopod.
And has a pit bull attorney.
I have a suggestion for those of you who have had the same experiences as I have. If you’re parked at a trail head where there are other cars, check for signs of dog ownership. Look for dog hair on the seat, a cage in the back, an “I heart my Rottweiler” bumper sticker. Then use your phone to snap a picture of the license plate. This makes it easy later, should there be a problem, to send it, certainly to the park office, and maybe your legal team. If you encounter the car owner with the dog leashed… thank them.
You know, writing this, I realize that I actually like dogs. I just wish their owners would be more responsible.