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  • Writer's pictureLiz Weiner

Dear Owner of The Unleashed Dog

You were in the wrong. Get over yourself.

Photo by Joe Caione on Unsplash

A woman in my community posted a rant on my neighborhood’s social media page describing an incident between her and the owner of another dog in hopes the “perpetrator” (owner of the leashed dog) would see it.

“To the man who…”

She went on to describe that her dog was off-leash (on a neighborhood sidewalk in a community with endless dogs), and she is “usually” quick enough to leash him when she sees a dog approaching, but this “one-time” she wasn’t fast enough. Her dog ran off toward a man walking what she referred to as a “reactive” dog.

Her dog, who had run quite far ahead of her at this point, came upon the leashed dog at full speed. The owner of the ambushed dog began yelling profanities at her as her dog was jumping on his, who did not take well to it. She was appalled at the man’s behavior, shocked and offended at the way he screamed at her, and she wanted him — and the rest of the community — to know it.

While the reactive dog’s owner could have chosen kinder, gentler words, in her opinion, it is impulse — fight or flight — in that terrifying moment. I get it. I’ve been there. Call it a dog parent’s devotion to protect his dog from the legal and potentially deadly consequences of his dog biting another dog. Nothing else matters at that point. Sure, he could have used more choice words, but he is not the villain, and neither is his dog. She was in the wrong. Period.

Fellow neighbors supported her, letting her know how sorry they were that happened to her.

“If your dog was friendly, what’s the big deal? You apologize and move on. I would just catch it and ask the owner to put the dog on a leash.”

If it were only that easy…

People were missing the point. She was not the victim here. She put her dog in danger. She put his dog in danger.

We assume all dogs are comfortable with other dogs: News flash — they aren’t. Yes, this was an “accident,” but keeping your dog leashed (especially if you know he has a propensity to run off) is an act of respect to others and keeps your dog safe.

I get that your dog is friendly, so why is it a big deal, you wonder?

Even though it was the fault of the unleashed dog, had there been an attack, the leashed dog would be seen as the aggressor. I could see the social media outrage now, “A vicious dog attacked my dog. He should not be allowed in this community. He should be euthanized. He’s a danger to society.”

This dog was taking a walk, safely on a leash, and was bombarded by another dog. Reactive or not, any leashed dog being ambushed — in the dog's mind — by an off-leash dog creates an unbalanced and threatening dynamic to the leashed dog.

I understand that someone screaming profanities at you can be traumatic. I get that.

Many years ago, I was strolling down a hiking trail with my first dog — me dragging behind as I naively allowed him to sniff and play off-leash freely when suddenly, a man screamed at me to get my dog. “My dog will attack your dog! Get him on a leash!!!” I felt shamed, and I made awful assumptions about him and his dog’s character. I thought, “If your dog doesn’t like other dogs, why are you walking on a trail with other dogs? It sounds like a disaster waiting to happen What. A. Jerk.”

It took me years to learn just how wrong I was — To realize that every dog has a right to enjoy a walk on a beautiful day.

If I hadn’t quickly grabbed my dog, he could have been severely injured or even killed as this dog was growling, air snapping, and lunging. It was terrifying. But it was my fault, not the owner of the reactive dog. Of course, he was infuriated with me. I put his dog in a dangerous situation. Once a dog bites, animal control gets involved, and who knows what the fate of the reactive dog might be. He was the responsible party for having his dog on a leash, so he would be able to pull his dog to the side when encountering other dogs.

Every dog has a right to walk — to enjoy a stroll in the fresh air and inhale delicious scents. Every dog has a right to feel safe in his world. Every owner has a right to walk without having a panic attack (hello, me) whenever they spot an off-leash dog. Keeping your friendly dog on a leash is for THEIR safety. Period. Leash laws exist for a reason — please follow them.

I BEG BEG BEG people to stop putting us owners of reactive dogs in this situation. I compare having a fearful dog to having a special needs child. You have no idea the measures we have to take until you have one, even when on a simple walk. We face behavioral struggles you would never know existed. It’s hard. It’s exhausting. It’s defeating. Please don’t make it harder.

— Owner of a fearful dog

Written by Elizabeth Weiner

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