Leash Your Dogs!

Over and over again in the last month, I’ve been out running and have been chased and nipped at by different dogs in my neighborhood. On two of those occasions, the owners were right by their dogs, and chased after them — though this didn’t prevent me from being bitten. Because dogs are fast, and unleashed dogs aren’t human. They don’t understand what real threats are and aren’t. And even good dogs react in unpredictable ways. That’s why dogs should always be leashed if they aren’t behind a fence.

Yes, your dog, too. Yes, even your old dog you think can’t possibly be a threat to anyone. Even the dog you’re sure would never hurt a fly. Even if your dog never does chase me and nip me, as someone who is out running or walking multiple times a day, I don’t want to have to worry every two minutes as I pass a dog, whether or not this one is going to bite me or not.

I used to be a dog lover. As a child, we had a lovely family dog named Laddie. I wasn’t afraid of dogs at all back then. The fear only came when I was a teenager and started delivering newspapers. I can’t tell you how many times dogs chased me. I was only bitten a couple of times, but I was terrified and weeping many, many times.

If you’re going to tell me that I must exude some kind of “fear” of dogs that causes dogs to choose me as a target, just stop. Right now. This is called victim blaming. It’s your way of saying that it’s not your problem to deal with this, that it’s just my problem. If I get chased and bitten more often than most people, let me suggest that it’s for two reasons:

1. I’m outside walking or running most days for up to 10 miles. This means I have a lot more chance to be attacked than most other people do.

2. I’m barely over 5 feet tall and am petite.

I don’t hate dogs, but I am afraid of them. This isn’t something I can control. I’ve had too many bad experiences. I don’t think that any of these dogs who chased and nipped me are “bad dogs.” I don’t think they should be put down, as some of my friends have suggested. They’re not vicious creatures. They didn’t maul me. They were just chasing a threat. In fact, they were being good dogs, as much as they knew how to be.

It’s owners who need to be aware of what dogs are, and what their responsibilities to the rest of the planet are. It’s not so difficult is it? I just don’t understand. Why don’t you leash your dog every time you go outside? It’s like putting on your seat belt in a car. You don’t think you’re going to have an accident every time you do that. But you put on your seat belt just in case. Please seat belt your dog. Or seat belt me and the other people in your neighborhood against your dog.

Also, you’re protecting your own dog against other dogs. Or wildlife. Or whatever unknown threat might come up. You can’t possibly think that your dog isn’t going to react to anything like that. You can’t know, and you can’t react quickly enough unless your dog is leashed.

When you’re in a city park or on a city trail with clearly marked signs that say to leash your dog, you are not the exception. Your dog or dogs are not the exception. You may think that your dog wouldn’t hurt a fly. But here’s the problem: once you’ve been bitten a few times by dogs, you get scared of dogs. And when you see unleashed dogs at the park, you realize that you’re not welcome there. No one cares about whether you feel safe.

So, I’m taking pepper spray with me when I go running. Today was the first day I used it. On a dog that has attacked me twice before. And the owners just think it’s not a problem because it’s a small dog. Sure, it’s small. It also has teeth. And no, I can’t out run it, even though I’m an All-American triathlete, not when it has the advantage of surprise.

I will probably go back to running indoors on my treadmill, when it gets fixed. It’s one of the primary reasons that I run indoors exclusively and have for the last fifteen years since I first started training for an Ironman, which requires a lot of outdoor time. Guess what? I don’t know any cyclist who has been hit by a car while cycling indoors. Ditto on being bitten by a dog while running.

But I like sunshine. I like seeing flowers. I like being out in the world and able to wave hello to neighbors. I even like seeing dogs playing with kids in the park.

Is it really too much to ask for me not to be bitten by dogs whose owners should know better?

Written by

Author of The Bishop’s Wife mystery series, The Mormon Sabbatical Podcast, Princeton PhD, fiction editor at Exponent II, autist, she/her

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