I’m walking down a path in the park with my kid when an unleashed dog trots toward us. He’s going the other direction. His owner is 10 yards or so behind.
The dog comes toward us, and pauses. My kids hop away in fear. I’m within arm’s length put my hands on their shoulders. The dog’s owner tells me his pup loves kids. And his dog, without licking my kid or, really doing much of anything, trots away.
The owner continues on too, probably oblivious to my death stare.
Look, I get why a dog owner might think it harmless that he lets his dog roam freely. After all, if his dog is like most dogs, it’s friendly. Maybe it’s not even friendly. Maybe it’s so well-trained that it doesn’t bat an eye at a passing two-year-old.
And I like dogs. I know they’re mostly all very good boys.
But my kids are not comfortable around dogs. My youngest is getting better, but he still sometimes recoils in fear when one gets near.
And if that dog is on a leash, well, that’s on my son to deal with.
But your off-leash dog? Well, that’s a dog that doesn’t just strike fear into my kids’ hearts but also forces me to make important parental decisions.
You know your dog is going to pass my kids without a second thought, and you may know it isn’t going to bite at my son if he swats its nose away.
But while we parents know your dog is probably a good dog, we don’t know that for sure.
And when we don’t know that for sure, it means we have to be on high alert when an unleashed dog approaches. It means we can’t give our sons and daughters the freedom to roam that they need to be kids.
It means, the kids need to be within arms’ length in case your dog is one of those that are aggressive. Remember, we don’t know you and we don’t know your dog. All I know is that you’ve decided to break one of the fundamental rules of dog ownership: keep your dog on a leash in a park – particularly one where kids may roam. I think I’m within my rights to assume you may have also neglected other important parts of owning a dog.
And yes, I know the places dogs can roam are limited these days. It’s true, the Fraser Valley could use more dog parks – it certainly has the room for them, and they are not particularly expensive to create.
If you live in an apartment or a small townhouse like me, I sympathize. The main reason my family doesn’t yet have a dog is because of a lack of space. But here’s the thing: you didn’t accidentally come into possession of your dog. You know there are limited public places where dogs can run freely. If you still decided to get a dog, then finding it a place to release its energy is on you.
But even that excuse has its limits. I have now, on multiple occasions, left my car at Clearbrook Park and walked by the large off-leash area to the right only to encounter dogs roaming away from their owners in the large public field to my left.
And last week, I was walking alone in Downes Bowl – the beautiful forested area adjacent to that off-leash area – when a large German shepherd-cross of some sort came running around a corner, barking at me, its owner nowhere to be seen. It was not friendly-looking and I did not feel safe. Our newspaper recently ran a story about a man whose face was attacked by a dog. I waited a good 10 seconds, metres away from the dog, which continued to bark at me before its owner appeared.
I was shaken, but unharmed and furious. My kids love hiking in Downes Bowl and I to let them run ahead of me and explore the forest trail.
Kids need and deserve areas that feel a world away from the crowded bustle of the city life they know. Irresponsible dog owners don’t.
Tyler Olsen is a reporter at The Abbotsford News
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