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How Do You Feel When Dog Owners Violate Leash Laws?

I recently encountered a dog running alone in a big park. Was his owner acting irresponsibly?

 |  Feb 8th 2013  |   134 Contributions


One of the cool things about living in Texas is the mild winter. We spent a recent sunny Saturday afternoon in Fort Worth walking a section of Trinity River Trails.

According to TrinityTrails.org, there are over 40 miles of trails along the Trinity River for activities like walking, cycling, and horseback riding, and the trail connects with 21 parks. One of those parks is Fort Woof, a privately run oasis for dog lovers. Fort Worth totally gets that dogs are an important part of the community.

Our favorite section of Trinity Trails has lovely views with lots of birds, squirrels, and other wildlife. We even get to see people riding horses now and then. The most common human and animal combinations, however, are the wide variety of dogs out for walks with their humans.

The park has a leash law, and we have seen only a few instances of someone walking a dog off leash (which is never the dog's fault). In such cases, it is the person being irresponsible, not the dog. On this particular day, however, we had our first encounter with a dog who was not on a leash -- and whose owner was nowhere in sight. 

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An unleashed dog runs free.

When we first saw the dog (we'll call him Rover), Tricia, Hannah, and I were on top of the flood bank. As he charged up the hill toward us, there were a few seconds where we could not tell whether Rover was a family pet coming to say a friendly hello, a family pet protecting his perceived territory, or a stray dog on an as yet undetermined mission. We knew not to start running or to do anything to provoke him. I simply placed myself between Rover and Tricia and Hannah as a precaution.

As Rover got closer, we spotted his blue nylon collar and, as there was no growling or other aggressive behavior, we assumed he was a pet on the loose, just coming to check us out. Long story short, Rover proved to be friendly and followed us for a quarter mile or so.

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The unidentified dog, which I called "Rover," walks with Tricia and Hannah at Trinity Trails.

I couldn't help but wonder who Rover belonged to. Why was he running free? He was a larger dog, and one would think his level of risk would be greater to be misunderstood or reported to animal control. What would have happened if he had bounded up the hill toward someone who was very afraid of dogs? Faced with human fear, would Rover have reacted differently? And let's not assume that Rover would have been the aggressor. What if a scared pedestrian overreacted and sprayed him with pepper spray?

I won't say categorically that the owner of this dog was irresponsible. For all we know, Rover might be an escape artist. But regardless, running free is not in Rover's best interest. There are far more bad endings than good ones for a dog running free within parks or communities with strict leash laws.

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Girl walking her dog by Shutterstock.com.

Rover appeared to be a good dog. He seemed friendly enough, but we didn't try to pet him, nor did he give much love to us. He simply trotted along with us a ways, as if he were just kind of lonely and maybe a little curious. At the trail head, he wandered off to find other curiosities to explore. We got in our car and went home. I hope Rover made it home safely, too.

I don't have any axe to grind here, because I don't know all the facts. My only point is to encourage all of us to be responsible and careful with our fur family members. They rely on us to keep them out of harm's way. Dogs don't know about leash laws or pepper spray, or which humans are safe to approach. Let's do all we can to keep our dogs safe, and that means keeping them on a leash when appropriate. 

What do you think? Was the owner irresponsible? 

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