I love hiking. I love my dog. But as a dog owner of a tiny terrier, I’ve given up hiking with him because of a growing problem with irresponsible dog owners allowing their dogs to run free.
Before you think I’m just being a fusspot about this, I’ll tell you that I know big, strong dog-less men who have given up certain hiking and biking trails because they’ve been jumped by unattended dogs. Nothing spoils a beautiful afternoon faster than a hundred-pound canine leaping at you from out of nowhere.
And it’s not like I’m a nervous Nellie in the woods. Heck, I grew up playing serious hide-and-seek, where stepping on skunk cabbage could give away your position and sometimes the best place to conceal yourself included sharing space other critters. I know enough to make a lot of noise when I come upon a skunk at night, because they don’t like to be startled. I’ve sprinted away from a rattlesnake I didn’t mean to disturb, had a delirious woodchuck with a brain parasite try to bite my feet, and even caught a red hawk lying in wait for my little pooch to wander by. When coyotes set up a den in the neighborhood several years ago, I learned to track them when I walked the dog because I know that when you see one coyote, you have to assume there’s a second, since they hunt in pairs. Then a family of foxes developed a taste for cats, and our neighborhood kitties started disappearing. The concern was that little dogs were next on the menu, so I had to be vigilant. Recently, there’s been a small bear wandering around, in addition to the wolverine-like fisher cats that can be found in the deep woods. As a nature lover, I know that safety on a hike is always my responsibility. I never step onto a trailhead without reminding myself that I must be prepared at all times to react to whatever danger pops up.
But for me and many other dog owners, it’s the loose, roaming “nice” dogs that pose the greatest threat to our pets and ourselves. This is a case in point. About a month ago, in a popular hiking area where I used to go, a woman’s 35-pound “goldendoodle” dog was attacked by one of two pit bulls off-leash. In the process of trying to rescue her dog, she was bitten on her hand and arm.
And the owners? Well, they had reassured the woman that their pit bulls were friendly just moments before one of the canines sunk his teeth in the “goldendoodle’s” hind quarters.
So, by now you’re probably trying to imagine the rest of the story. You’re probably thinking that the owners of the two pit bulls rushed forward to contain their dogs. They came forward, and yes, they pulled their dogs off the poor little “goldendoodle” eventually. But here’s where the story takes a nasty turn. Did the dog owners offer assistance to the bleeding woman or her bleeding dog? No, they scurried away with their two pit bulls. And the conversation overheard? The woman told the man she couldn’t believe it happened AGAIN and that this time, the dog would have to go to the pound. Say what?
What would possess anyone whose dog has previously attacked another animal or human to allow that dog off leash in any public space? And how in God’s name can you leave an injured woman and dog in the middle of the wilderness? Think about that a moment. In an area where the wildlife includes fisher cats, bears, foxes, coyotes, and other carnivores, where the nearest house is a good twenty minutes away, you have the audacity to leave two bleeding victims? That’s unconscionable.
You might think that’s the end of the story, but it’s not. Whenever there is a dog bite to a human, the human requires treatment. In this case, the offending dog was not apprehended. That meant that the victim had to receive more than just a tetanus shot and a bandage or two. She needed a series of rabies shots. After all, anyone who lets an aggressive dog attack more than once might just be the same kind of person who doesn’t bother to get the dog vaccinated.
We have leash laws for a reason. The public has the right to hike without unwanted interference from aggressive or “overly friendly” dogs. Most dog owners understand this and respect the need to control their animals. But for those of us who are subjected to dog attacks because the owners are irresponsible, sometimes the risks just aren’t worth taking. This particular dog owner tried to do everything right, but she was sabotaged by dog owners who refused to accept responsibility for their pets. They left without even trying to make it right. If that isn’t the epitome of antisocial behavior, what is? The phrase “depraved indifference” seems an adept description of this behavior.
Will the owners of the attacking pit bull get away with this? It hardly seems likely. It turns out they were known to frequent that area, so other hikers were able to provide animal control officers with information. With two pit bulls in tow, the tall strawberry blonde woman and her companion are now on the “most wanted” list of area hikers, armed with cameras and cell phones. The couple may think that moving to another trail in another town will save them, but it won’t. They will eventually get caught when their “friendly” pit bulls are yet again off-leash. Let’s hope that no one else is injured because of their blatant disregard for the rights of others.