Caution pet owners

As we walk every day, we often see people out walking their dogs. There are, of course, all kinds and sizes of dogs in our community. And they are all different ages and have lots of different personalities, if a dog can be said to have a “person”ality. Many of the dogs we see are very friendly and excited to see other walkers. They try to greet us and, with the permission of their owners, we often pet them and speak to them. Once in a while we will encounter a dog who is threatened and barks or growls at us, and such an encounter seems to embarrass the owners, who struggle to control their animals. We see a lot of very large people with really small dogs in our neighborhood, but occasionally we see a small person with a very large dog as well.

Most of the places we walk require animals to be on leashes, but one of the places where we like to walk is a large park and preserve that has a field where dogs can play off leash. We walk on a path that goes alongside the off-leash area for 3/4 of a mile and have never had any problem with any of the dogs that are playing in the area. It is fun to watch them run after frisbees and balls and enjoying the outdoor space to run. When we walk in that area, however, we also frequently see dogs off leash in areas that require a leash. At one end of the off leash area there is a row of signs that identify the end of the area. They cite the county ordinance that requires animals to be on leash on the other side of the signs. I frequently say to Susan as we walk that the problem with those signs is that dogs can’t read, so they don’t know what they say. In the spring the county put up bright yellow marking tape to indicate the end of the off leash area, but it seemed to have no impact on the owners. The dogs continued to go beyond the signs without their leashes. It doesn’t seem to be a big problem in that park because there is so much open space. However, we also encounter on a fairly regular basis, people who have their dogs off leash in other areas that are clearly marked by signs reminding everyone that dogs should be on leash in that area.

In fairness, we’ve not had problems with dogs off of their leashes. They have been well-behaved. The one time, several years ago, when a dog rushed up and bit our grandson while he was riding his bike on a paved pathway, the dog was on a leash, but it was one that extended a long cable and gave the dog way too much distance for the owner to control it.

What seems to be the case is that some dog owners believe that their dogs are the exception to the rule. Their experience of their pet is that it is well controlled, that it answers to their call, and that there is no need for a leash. I understand that feeling. When I was a young adult my family had a dog that was a beloved pet. She was gentle and good with children. Our father had worked with her and she was good about obeying voice commands and coming when called. One winter day, however, we were on an outdoor adventure in Yellowstone National Park. While we ate our picnic lunch, the dog was let out of the car to explore and to relieve herself. She stayed close by as we stood around eating our sandwiches. Then, all of a sudden, she took off at a full run and didn’t come back when we called her name. She had spotted a group of coyotes in the distance and headed off after them. We knew the rules in Yellowstone Park. All domestic animals have to be restrained at all times. Having a dog off of a leash was against park rules and there were plenty of signs to remind us of the rules. Fortunately, the snow was deep and the coyotes ran off and the dog returned without any further incident.

I understand how a dog owner can get into trouble in Yellowstone National Park. It happened again last Sunday. A woman was visiting the park with her dog and allowed the animal to go off leash. The dog jumped into a hot springs with near-boiling water. The woman went into the spring, known as Maiden’s Grave, to get the dog. Fortunately for the woman, her father saw this happen and was able to pull her out of the hot water, but not before she suffered significant burns across much of her body from being in the 200 degree water for eight seconds. Unfortunately, the dog perished.

Yellowstone National Park is a wilderness area. There are some emergency services in the park and in the towns near the park borders, but it is a hundred miles from that hot springs to the nearest trauma center. And that is a long ride with burns on your body. I know because I once made an 80-mile ambulance ride that started outside of the park after being burned, not by hot water, but by fire. It is no fun. And the woman was not only suffering intense pain, she was grieving the loss of her pet.

Those of us who have spent time around the park know a lot of stories about people who have been badly burned from the hot water features. The Yellowstone National Park safety website says that more than 20 people have died from burns suffered in park hot springs. Last week’s incident was only a month since another young woman was burned by hot water at the park. Hot springs have killed or injured more visitors to the park than any other natural feature.

So be careful out there. Be a little overly cautious about your pet. It is for the safety of your pet as well as the safety of other people. Even if your pet is exceptionally well trained, an unusual even or place can be confusing to it and its behavior might be unpredictable. There are reasons for the rules. Respect them. It could save you from a lot of suffering.

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