I had the good fortune to be reunited with a childhood friend in the Comox Valley recently.
Our meeting included a walk with Dennis’ lab/border-collie Samantha around the airpark in Courtenay, where dogs are required to be on a leash. I was surprised when at one point we encountered a medium-to-large-sized dog trotting with determination towards us and Dennis immediately let Sam off her leash.
“She’s at a disadvantage if she’s on a leash and the other dog isn’t,” he explained, making me imagine we’d be bathed in spurting canine blood at any second.
Nothing beyond the requisite genital sniffing occurred between the two, which is of course what usually happens when strange dogs encounter each other out in public.
But it was yet another one of those cases where a walk with one’s dog becomes unnecessarily tense because other dog owners refuse to heed the rules of a particular trail, or have different interpretations of what having “control” of their dog really means.
A couple of days later I received a note from an island woman who described a situation where she encountered someone with three unleashed dogs on a Channel Ridge trail.
She wrote: “They ran towards me. The Lab lunged and grabbed my gloved hand in its mouth. It hurt and I said, ‘Ouch.’ The woman, whom I did not know feebly called her dog . . . did not make eye contact . . . did not say sorry . . . and kept on walking.
“I am left with a small bruise on my hand and a question. Why is it that dog owners do not understand that most other people do not like dogs jumping at/up at them?
“I should add that I have had numerous animal companions over the years. My mother had a kennel. I’m not afraid of dogs. You would not let your child run up to a stranger and hit them. Why would you let your dog child do the same thing?”
It’s an excellent question.
When people come to my house, our two 15-pound mutts will inevitably jump on their legs and shock them with a high-pitched barking frenzy. But that’s when their territory is being invaded by others.
When we occasionally take the beasts to Channel Ridge or on other public island trails, they are always on a leash. We don’t want them to chase and hurt wild creatures, get hurt themselves, antagonize other dogs or to unnecessarily bother human walkers.
We’d certainly explore more Salt Spring trails where dogs are supposed to be on a leash or at least “under control” if we could be assured of not encountering galumphing unleashed dogs around every corner, which at present is just not the case.
Our last outing at Channel Ridge, for example, featured a gentle but unwanted passing lunge from a gargantuan beast, which was preceded by its owner’s assurance that her off-leash pet was friendly and a demonstration that it would sit down at her bidding. I am sure that particular dog was a model of training and would be considered “under control.”
But the unknown in the meeting of furry kids and humans out on public trails is what reactions could be triggered in any pooch on the loose. People seem to assume that if their dog hasn’t attacked or maimed a human or another dog in its life so far that it doesn’t need to be constrained by a leash.
Salt Spring hiking trails should be for people who want to soak up some fresh air and natural areas, and get some exercise for themselves and for their leashed dogs, if they have dogs.
Off-leash dog areas should clearly be the spots for people who want to let their dogs run freely, and who don’t mind being jumped on or otherwise pestered by other people’s animals. We do have a couple of those spots on Salt Spring. Maybe it’s time to designate another off-leash area or two, and increase the number of spots where dogs must be on a leash and not just theoretically “under control.”