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Don't Be a Freak off the Leash

Davi discusses outdoor courtesy—and the law

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I recently had a nerve-wrenching experience while hiking with my mom. As we traveled along the trail, I noticed a large dog running toward us: ears alert, tail up, and eyes focused on me. Despite my best effort to “bark bark bark” and my mom’s command for the dog to “get outta here!” the dog forged in fury. My life flashed before my eyes. I couldn’t help but fear I was about to fall victim to someone’s bad judgment. Just before all heck broke loose, the dog’s owner came running behind him, shouting “Gunner, halt!”—and he obeyed. He halted.

Fortunately, I haven’t seen that same dog off-leash in the park since then, but he won’t be the last to do that. Even with laws that require dogs to be secured, especially when on public grounds, dogs are let loose and unsupervised on a daily basis. Too many dog owners seem to be operating under the false assumption that there’s nothing wrong with allowing their dogs to run free because their dogs are “friendly” and won’t harm anyone—as though that makes their illegal and dangerous choice acceptable or legal.

While your dog might be the director of the canine social committee, not every dog appreciates being bum-rushed by some fanatical Fido they don’t know. Some dogs are downright offended—or terrified—and will react with snarls, growls and lunges toward Mr. Congeniality. The best solution to this problem: a dog leash.

Keeping your dog on a leash is not just good fashion sense: It’s the law. In Florida, there are 67 counties, most of which have a dog leash law in place—for several very good reasons. If your dog is under your control—and his own control—he’s less likely to get into danger. A leash will help you keep an eye on your dog and, ultimately, protect him from poisonous plants, wild animals and loose rocks on a path or cliff.

Other dogs can be mean. Just walk through any dog park and you’ll see this is true. Some dogs have bad behavior, and some are just plain malicious. I know I wouldn’t want to have to deal with that.

It’s common courtesy. If you’re walking on a trail or down a road, it’s important to take others into consideration. Some people don’t like dogs, some are allergic, and some are flat-out afraid of them.

Whether or not your dog is loose, you’re still responsible for cleaning up after him. However, if he’s loose, you may not see he’s lifting his leg on someone’s car or pooping outside a restaurant. It’s the responsible thing to keep him where you can see him.

Believe me, I get the allure of being able to run wild, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK. From personal experience, I can guarantee your dog would rather be outdoors hiking on a leash than sitting home. I’m certainly not miserable, under-exercised or being punished when I hike on a leash. I am happy, excited about our adventure, and safe.

If you feel your dog is craving the off-leash experience, find a designated park that allows off-leash activity. Otherwise, be respectful of others and keep your dog on a leash.

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