Never in my life have I ever in a city where people flout leash laws like they are ephemeral guidelines, existing only for as long as it takes the peace officer to post the sign and then high-tail it for his afternoon nap. In Halifax, people would at least get yelled at for pulling the kind of crap people do here. I even was yelled at once at 7:00 am on a Saturday morning by an older gentleman with a cranky border collie, for letting Shiva run loose one day after the summer dog ban came into effect. Me! A rules-obsessed perfectionist. But in Edmonton, or at least in my hipster neighbourhood, which is as liberal as Alberta gets, it seems my fellow dog owners do not feel the rules are meant for them.
It’s fine, really. Shiva and I are good at this game. We are accustomed to diving in bushes and dashing around parked cars. We know how to make our boundaries clear and we have thick skins. My eye doesn’t twitch any more when someone refers to my furry pal as “unfriendly”, even though she is the one behaving herself like a canine saint. No longer do we need to estivate indoors or avoid daylight hours at the public park. We deal. I resist the urge to argue when a cyclist insists the ravine is an off-leash area and that I must be mistaken despite the fact that I spend more time pouring over animal by-laws than most people spend bathing.
I am not joking. I like to know the rules and when I am breaking them. It seems I am alone.I have accepted this. But that doesn’t mean it is fair.
Shiva loves to run, lives to run. But most days she can’t. The dog parks are too far away and I don’t want to be the jerk with the wild animal distracting the other dogs from their games of fetch or jogging with their humans, or whatever else these lawless critters are up to in public, non-off leash areas. It sucks. We have worked for five long years on her recall and it is just about as perfect as it can be. Yet we can’t show it off because we don’t want to be rude. Of course, it is okay if other dogs and people are rude and ruin our fun. It is far better to be in the right. At least we can look ourselves in the mirror in the morning and know we didn’t spoil a law-breaker’s good time.
The breaking point occurred about six weeks ago. There is a woman who walks her two beautiful dogs in the ravine around the same time Shiva and I venture out in the morning. The two dogs are almost always off leash. One dog is not a problem. A gorgeous, happy Newf, he never gets in Shiva’s face and I have no issues at all with him being untethered in the on-leash park. The other dog is a Border Collie. Younger, faster, and, er, spunkier. She never hesitates to get right in Shiva’s space. Shiva, when on leash, takes objection to this. Most of the time we are slick enough to get out of there without injury. During their encounter six weeks ago, we were not so fortunate. In the five seconds it took for the woman to drag her dog away, Shiva had sustained an injury to her left eye.
It wasn’t serious. Her blood clots as fast as she gobbles her dinner. But there was blood. In her eye. It freaked me out. I am sure the woman didn’t know. It was too quick. I don’t blame the Border Collie. I blame the leash.
I have decided to change the rules. I can’t do anything about the laws. If it were up to me, all parks would be off-leash to dogs and humans who can prove they have connection and self-restraint. I understand this is impractical. Nonetheless, I have come up with my own, albeit illegal, solution to this lifelong annoyance.
From now on, if I see an off-leash dog approaching, I am going to swing around, un-clip Shiva from her restraint and give her permission to play. This solves two problems. One: prevents my reactive mutt from feeling trapped and in need of defending herself. Two: lets Shiva let off the anxiety that builds from watching other dogs zoom without joining in herself.
Will the other dog-human partnerships appreciate it? Some will, some won’t. Shiva is friendly enough off-leash. I have no concern she will hurt anyone. Regardless, she has a certain vivacity that many other dogs find hard to resist. She has been known to lead many a canine into trees and bogs, encouraging them to run like the cops are chasing them, and then run some more. Shiva always comes back. The other dogs… Well, that’s not really my problem, is it? They shouldn’t be off-leash if they don’t have a recall.
Two wrongs may not make a right but I can’t think of a justifiable argument from the other human’s side. Sure, Shiva is a nutjob, but she’s harmless when untethered and has self control. The potential consequences are much, much worse when I leave her on. What can the culprit say? If his or her dog was leashed as he or she was supposed to be, Shiva wouldn’t have bothered them. Why should we be the ones going through the stress of avoidance all the time?
I am tired of turning around and walking another thirty minutes out of my way just to avoid meandering mutts with lazy humans. I have been doing this too long. The incident with Shiva’s eye was the end of it. I won’t put her in situations where she feels in danger. And I won’t stick to boring residential streets, where we still run into the occasional off-leash dog or stick-wielding toddler. Shiva deserves a walk in the forest as much as anyone. It’s time to take a stand.