One of the best parts about living in Buxton is the parks. One of them, Pleasant Point Park, offers over 60 acres of wooded land along the river with real Goldilocks trails – not too wild, not too tame. I love to go for long walks with my dog, Janey. I get to absorb the quiet beauty of the woods, and Janey gets to smell it. It’s a peaceful break from the rest of the world.

However, the other day our usual serenity was ruined because I almost had to punch a golden retriever.

Janey and I were meandering along our usual path when an enormous and energetic dog came charging out of the underbrush directly at us. I am not ashamed to admit I screamed, because for a split second I honestly thought it was a deer. But it wasn’t. It was a big fluffy dog named Cooper, followed right after by another large fluffy dog named Murphy. Cooper, in the manner of big, energetic dogs, was over-excited and trying to make instant best friends with Janey. But Janey is friendly with other dogs only when they approach slowly and calmly. If I hadn’t been able to swing her behind me in time and put my body between the two animals, she probably would have bitten him in the face.

Cooper and Murphy, you might have guessed, were off-leash. And the reason I know their names is that their owners were yelling “Cooper, come!” and “Murphy, come!” But Cooper and Murphy were not listening.

Pleasant Point Park is a strictly on-leash park. At every entrance, there are signs saying that all dogs must be leashed. In the colder months, when it’s usually locals in the area, off-leash dogs aren’t as much of an issue, but it’s summer, which means we are getting more visitors. And I welcome them, I really do – I want to share my neighborhood’s beauty with anyone who wants to see it. I just want it to be done safely.

This might surprise people, but I am a hardcore right-wing conservative when it comes to the issue of leashing dogs. Unless you are in a place that specifically has signs designating it as an off-leash area, or if you are on private property, I believe your dog needs to be leashed. I’ve even butted heads with my own mother about this – she used to take our bumbling, loyal Marvin for walks off-leash in the park. I disagree with this.

“But my dog is well-trained,” you might say. I hate to break it to you but no, they aren’t. Unless your dog has been professionally trained since puppyhood on recall, they are not safe enough to be trusted 100 percent of the time off-leash. And it takes only once for fatal consequences to happen. What happens if your dog sees a squirrel, doesn’t respond to your commands and bolts into the road? If you’re lucky, they’ll run into me, who will stop traffic, corral them and bring them back to you. This has happened to me twice in the past month alone.

If you’re unlucky? I’ve had two family dogs hit by cars in my lifetime. One survived, with about $10,000 worth of veterinary care. The other didn’t. Her name was Jazzy. I was 12, and I had  to help my dad carry her body to the vet’s for cremation. I do not recommend having your children or grandchildren go through this experience.

If you’re a regular reader of my columns, you will know that I absolutely love dogs. Love, love, love them. (One of the most annoying side effects of the coronavirus pandemic has been, for me, not being able to pet strangers’ dogs. In the grand scheme of things, it isn’t a big deal, but I really miss it.)

I want them to be safe, which is why I am such a witch about leashing them. Seeing dogs off-leash scares me, every time, because I know how fast things can go wrong for those speedy pups. Even if you aren’t near a road – they can tangle with a wild animal, get lost, run into an unfriendly dog … there’s no shortage of things that can go wrong. It’s for the protection of everyone – your dog, my dog, myself, random kids wandering around who are liable to get run over by an overly excited Labrador – that you keep them on a leash. Yes, even if they whine and give you the puppy eyes.

As for Cooper and Murphy, I separated them from Janey, and their owners corralled them. Nobody was hurt. They are good dogs, and I hope they will be leashed in the future. But it was distressing enough that I feel the need to write this column. If you are an avid off-leasher, I understand, but I hope you will reconsider.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial

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