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Restraining dogs just makes good sense

Posted: Sunday, August 31, 2003

For a dog owner, there isn't much better than finding a place where their pet can run free. However, the places where a dog can safely play and exercise unrestrained are few and far between.

Both the city of Kenai's code 3.10.020 and Soldotna's code 6.04.080 clearly state that a person who owns a dog should keep the dog restrained at all times. However, outside the city limits these rules may not apply or are difficult to enforce.

Letting a dog off its leash can at times be rude to others, dangerous to people and animals and even illegal.

Marianne Clark, an animal control officer and the Soldotna Animal Shelter manager, said unleashed dogs can run into dangerous situations in a fraction of a second.

"There are several scenarios in which a dog can act unpredictably and become hurt or hurt others," Clark said. She explained that even dogs that normally heed voice commands can be startled by a backfiring car, an icicle suddenly falling from a roof, a squirrel running by or any number of unexpected situations.

"You don't know how they may respond," Clark said. "They could jump out of the way and into oncoming traffic where they could be hurt or killed. Also, dogs that jump into the street can cause car accidents when drivers swerve or lock up the brakes to avoid hitting the animal."

Clark remembers an incident a few years ago in which a man was permanently injured after a head-on collision with a telephone pole when he swerved to avoid a dog that ran in front of his car.

"Some people are also frightened by unleashed dogs," Clark said.

Not all people are "dog people" and the ones who aren't are more likely to tolerate dogs on leashes.

Clark said children and elderly people may not have quick reflexes and can be injured by an unleashed dog that runs up and startles them or jumps up unexpectedly.

Unleashed dogs also can pose a threat to leashed dogs. Dogs on leashes can feel threatened or trapped by roaming dogs and may try to protect their owner who is walking them. This predicament can often lead to problems, such as a dog fight that can possibly end with fatal results.

Unleashed dogs are more than just safety hazards, though. They can also be a nuisance since they may urinate or defecate indiscriminately in other people's yards.

Brett Reid, an animal control officer for the animal shelter in Kenai, said unleashed dogs can also hurt or be hurt by wildlife.

"Unleashed dogs will often chase moose or caribou," Reid said.

Not only can this harm or even kill wild animals, especially defenseless calves, but the dogs themselves can be injured when wild animals retaliate by kicking or stomping.

"Dogs at large can also become prey for coyotes and wolves," Reid said.

Unfortunately, not all dog owners subscribe to the idea of keeping their pets on leashes when walking them. Also, accidents do occur. Dogs can slip out of their collars and end up in dangerous situations inadvertently.

It's difficult to predict what will happen when an unleashed dog approaches someone who is walking a leashed dog, since every scenario is different and depends on the temperament, attitude and behavior of the two dogs involved.

However, any dogs seen roaming free should be reported to the local animal shelter immediately for its own safety and the safety of others.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He has worked with wildlife and domestic animals for more than 10 years as a veterinary technician, a zoo keeper, and most recently as a zoologist for the Wildlife Conser-vation Society. He welcomes any pet-related questions or story ideas, but please none of a veterinary nature. Ideas and questions can be sent to his attention by e-mail at clarion@alaska.net.



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