There was time, some years ago, when I lived in the suburbs with three Salukis. Every evening, I walked several miles around the neighborhood with the dogs on retractable leads. I do not recommend this.
But at the time, I knew no better. There is an art form, a ballet of sorts, involved in walking three Salukis on three flexileads. The dogs dart to and fro, the lines zing and zang, and the walker constantly exchanges leads and hands as the dogs perform complicated pinwheels in opposite directions, like a Cirque du Soleil act. I don’t like to brag, but I like to think we performed like a well-oiled machine, a precision dance troupe, and made quite the vision walking along our neighborhood streets every evening.
Until one evening, when everything went haywire.
You see, to change hands and leads and keep your arms from popping out of joint, you have to constantly lift the lines and leads over your head. This is good exercise for the upper body, transforming a dog walk into a full body workout. My neighborhood didn’t have sidewalks, but it didn’t have a lot of traffic, either, so we generally walked in the middle of the road.
So it was, one dark and windy night, I was climbing the hill on the way home, the leads pleasantly zinging and zanging overhead, when A) a car unexpectedly rounded the bend, spotlighting us, and B) a gust of wind picked up.
Did I mention I have long hair?
Turns out, when you call the dogs back to you, retracting the leads while holding them over your head as the wind blows your hair up in the air, several things happen. None of which is good. The dogs all fly back toward you, from various directions, but not by straight routes. The leashes retract — along with your hair. They suck your hair up all the way to the root, preventing you from unbraiding the tangle the dogs have made of the lines, and in fact wrapping one around your neck when one dog changes direction.
After that, things go poorly. The lines keep retracting, sucking your hair along with them, pulling the dogs toward your head and toward each other until they all meet in a sudden impact sort of situation. This in turn causes more things to transpire: Your head is flung to dog-head-level in an attempt to not have your hair ripped out and your breath cut off. The dogs, all now stuck together and blaming one another for the unwarranted collision, realize now is the ideal time to have a massive dog fight, even though they are now attached to your scalp by a matter of mere inches. OK, only two of them; the third one is desperately trying to run away, dragging your head, now in the center of a rapidly constricting cat’s cradle, with him.
Luckily, since your face is being trampled by the other two, he can’t pull you very far.
At least the car stopped. Who wouldn’t, with that kind of free entertainment in their headlights? I think he may have even turned his brights on. Didn’t get out of the car or anything rash or heroic like that, but he got a good show. I may have even seen a flash from a camera. Because being blinded also helped.
I wish I could tell you how I got disentangled. In case, you know, you find yourself in the same situation one day. I recall trying to separate the fighters, but this is not easy when your head is the main thing between them. Especially when your throat is being garroted by the third one, who just wants out of there! So, just because I am spoiled and one of my hobbies happens to be breathing, I unhooked that one, knowing she would run home. OK, maybe not really knowing she would run home, but not really particularly caring where she ran right at that moment. The others — I somehow got to my feet, bending over, and straddling one and unhooking both, holding them apart, one in each hand.
I am now in a position to tell you that retractable leads (or at least three of them) are quite heavy when the only thing supporting them is your hair. They unravel so they are hanging by about a foot of line, like some avant-garde hair ornaments. I stand there, trying to figure what to do, plus get the one unraveled from my throat so I can do silly things like breathe. Alas, watching me stagger about was insufficient entertainment for my audience, who started blowing the car horn. We stagger to the edge of the road, the car guns past (thanks for the help!) and I trudge home feeling like Medusa (the one with snake hair) or maybe Methuselah (the one who was about seven billion years old).
I would like to say that once home, the dogs made up, the leads came out, and we all had a fine laugh. Well, the dogs made up. My hair came out. And my (now former) friends had a fine laugh as I explained the rope burn around my neck.
The retractable leads remain in the drawer, my hair still wound within them.
Don’t you love the folks who show up at the vet’s office with their dog on a retractable leash and then seem to forget how to retract it? “Oh, he just wants to be friends,” they gush, as he bolts across the room to snuffle at your dog — no matter that your dog is at death’s door, comatose or in the throes of a seizure.
I’ve tried to get my dog to sound like he’s hacking up a lobe with kennel cough, but they seldom sound convincing enough, and the owners seem oblivious when you mention how contagious he is. But what does work is to bring a bit of whipped cream with you and discreetly let your dog lap it up, making sure some sticks to his lips. Then declare, “I sure hope they can get his rabies under control!” Most owners, even the ones stupid enough to let their dogs wander about the reception room unretracted, seem to understand the word “rabies,” especially when your dog is foaming at the mouth. Zip!
Have you ever had a crazy experience with a retractable leash? Do you still use one? Tell us your story in the comments!
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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.