Reflections on Safety for the Nighttime Dog Walk

Here in New York City, my dogs' home town, off-leash hours in Central Park - their favorite place - are 9 p.m. to 9 a.m....

Here in New York City, my dogs’ home town, off-leash hours in Central Park – their favorite place – are 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. every day. Lately, deadlines have kept me chained to the computer for long stretches most mornings, so that means the quality dog-exercise time – the long, leisurely, stretch-your-legs stroll or the brisk, round-the-reservoir run dogs live for – must take place in the dark.

It’s lovely out there at night, but it can be somewhat stressful letting dogs off leash. Two of my pack members are black (Tiki and Cupcake), one is dark red (Sheba); those three all basically disappear from view. My lightest-looking dog, Lazarus, is tan with white markings, but even he can be tough to spot at night.

When I lose sight of an unleashed dog in an unfenced outdoor space, I become unhinged. There are too many opportunities for disaster to strike – the dogs could run out of the park and right into oncoming traffic, for instance.

This means illuminated gear is a must – for the dogs’ safety and my sanity.

Years ago, I used to attach a bicycle safety light to my dogs’ collars at night, but often that beacon would become obscured by the long-haired dogs’ fur. Happily, there’s no need for make-your-own solutions any more – it appears that, when it comes to canine gear, everything is illuminated, from collars and leashes to lighted balls and flying discs.

Sometimes the lights blink; sometimes they’re steady. Either way, they provide enormous peace of mind when exercising dogs in the dark.

For small dogs, Jonathan Brust invented Pup Bright, a harness rigged with a motion-sensitive green light that flashes for 30 seconds while its wearer is moving. The industrial engineering student was inspired to design the harness after several vanishing acts performed byBella, his black Shih Tzu-Poodle mix (that’s her with her doting dad, at left). “We’d be hanging out with her in our back yard, then suddenly we’d look and she’d be gone, so we’d have to organize a search party,” Brust says. “This is a nice way to keep track of her.”

The rising popularity of illuminated dog gear brings another dimension of enjoyment to nighttime outings. It’scool to see entire groups of LED-powered dogs romping outdoors at night, chasing after LED-powered toys, like a dazzling holiday light display come to life.

Another way to ensure visibility is with “ultra bright” reflective sleeves that slide on easily over collars and leashes. Made with 3M’s trademarked Scotchlite, See Me products are lower-tech than LED-lit gear – and less expensive – but extremely effective at helping spot Spot. When headlights, street lights, or even flashlights shine on these products, they can be seen from as far away as three football fields.

Happily, the reflective-band safety statement is stylish, too; traffic-stopping lime yellow has a sporty, urban-chic edge that looks great on everyone, young or old, whether they exercise on four legs or two. Why not match your dog by attaching a Cap Reflector to the back of your hat, or wear a reflective stretch waistband over your jacket? It’s easily attached with Velcro.

Finally, a good flashlight is a great accessory to bring along on nighttime outings. My aerospace-grade aluminum Icon “Rogue” lights the way very effectively, plus it’s a great help when trying to locate poop to scoop. Meanwhile, back at home, this LED flashlight doubles as a high-tech cat teaser, motivating Socks to pounce after the moving target.

And for Pet Reporters who need to take notes in the dark, nothing beats the Inka pen, which attaches handily to a keychain.

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