Going for a nighttime walk with a favorite dog or two is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Nothing clears the mind or exalts the soul quite like a cool, crisp outing beneath a canopy of low-hanging stars, with canines and crickets for company. Of course, in the city where I live, even among the tall trees I’m never very far from a street light or the illumination of passing cars. But spending time in rural areas, I know how pitch-black it can get out there after dark — and how maddeningly tough it is to spot a dusky dog who’s decided to wander off.
When I first moved to my new, very urban ‘hood, I admit I was terrified. Thanks to the economic downturn, I’d relocated from a swanky ZIP code to the legendary Bronx, which has a reputation around the globe for being rough-and-tough (hence the lower rent rates). Although I have big, scary-looking dogs, the reality is that they’re sweetie pies — so defending our safety is always up to me, not them. And since I was new to the hood, I didn’t know anyone and didn’t have a dog-walking buddy to coordinate outings with.
When it came time for our first nighttime walk, I was on high alert and regretting that I hadn’t heeded the sign in the nearby drugstore window that read: “We proudly carry mace products.” Yikes!
As it turned out, I had very little to fear — my neighbors happen to be some of the nicest, most responsible dog owners I’ve ever encountered. Walking at night, I feel perfectly safe. Thankfully, I never did purchase mace or pepper spray, and don’t intend to. However, a cover of darkness does make dog walking more of a challenge, so I never go unprepared into that good night. Happily, there are simple ways to feel safer and even empowered while out walking dogs by oneself at night.
It’s a good idea to bring along a light source such as a flashlight. My favorite is the Icon Rogue, but something small such as a keychain light will also help illuminate matters — especially if it’s a moonless, pitch-black sky out there. Any light is helpful when it comes to doing poop-scoop duty; it’s tough to pick up when you can’t even locate your target! You can also acquire a dog collar with built-in LED lights; they’re widely available in stores and online.
Do bring along your phone — not for gabbing with friends but for a lifeline in case of emergency — and make sure it’s charged. In addition to being a dogsend in case an urgent situation arises out there, the phone is also a handy light source.
Leave the iPod and headphones at home for the night walk. With vision compromised by darkness, for safety’s sake I’d rather not preoccupy my sense of hearing, especially when I’m walking near a busy road. To me, dog walking is akin to driving; it’s smart to take a defensive approach by keeping your eyes moving and your ears peeled, especially in low-visibility conditions.
It also helps to put reflective gear on yourself as well as your dog, such as a light-catching collar or a sleeve that slips over your existing leash — especially if your dog is dark, as black dogs vanish into the night. Or, attach a light to his collar. If you and Spot somehow get separated, you’ll have a better time seeing him and reconnecting with him. A bonus: You’ll have a better visual read on where you’re stepping, making it easier to avoid OPPs (other pups’ poops).
If rounds of fetch are on your after-dark recreational program, by all means make it easier on Spot and yourself by playing with LED-illuminated toys. Preventing doggie disappointment is thoughtful — what’s sadder than the plight of a frustrated dog who’s lost sight of his fetch toy in the dark? Boo!
Does your hood teem with stray cats? Sadly, mine does. Being nocturnal creatures, naturally they go catting about after nightfall. Two of my dogs have a high prey drive around strange cats, so I need to be on my guard not to be suddenly yanked off my feet if an arch-backed kitty should pop out of nowhere or hiss angrily from beneath a car.
So Dogster readers, let’s talk: Do nighttime walks scare you? What do you do to make yourself and your dogs safer? Please share in the comments!