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Murphy's Musings: Editorial

This is a highly irregular, and often irreverent (if not irrelevant) set of editorials reflecting my views on a wide swath of issues. You might wonder why I don't just use a blog; I have my reasons.


Loose Dogs

I grew up in a City. Now I find myself living in a rural corner of a fairly affluent county in the Commonwealth of Virginia, USA.

One of the really bad misconceptions people — in particular us city slickers — have about living in the country is that it's "ok" to let your dogs run. With all this open space, how can it not be fine, you might ask? What's the harm?

Here are some reasons. Warning: some of these are not for the faint of heart.

  • The country has roads with cars and trucks. (Well, Duh...) What makes you think that rover has the sense to stay away from those roads? Would you let your two or three year old child wander near such roads? Mature dogs have been shown, on average, to have an intelligence level similar to such children. Have you seen a dog that has been hit by a car? Trust me, it is not something you ever want to see.
  • People have the right to walk past your property on the public right of way (the road). You might think "oh, but it's ok, my dog is friendly". Yes, friendly to you and your family and people your dog knows. But what about strangers? What about other dogs? What about people walking their dogs past your house? Aggression levels in dogs can be quite different when the target of the aggression is a dog rather than a human; and different again when it's a stranger rather than Uncle Joe. What about the pack mentality, which will surely kick in if there are other loose dogs in the area and your dog runs with them? What about your liability if your dog just might bite someone, or attack someone else's dog?
  • Farmers have the right to shoot your dog in many states, if your dog is a threat to their livestock. But, you say, your dog would never do that? Are you sure? Have you tested your dog around sheep, goats, and other small animals? I happen to have a neighbour who has repeatedly lost animals to marauding dogs, and it is truly heartbreaking.

I am right now incredibly frustrated. Normally we walk our dogs on a quiet, nearby unpaved road with very little auto traffic, on a regular basis. On all such walks, our dogs are under our control at all times, on leashes or flexis. However, because one county resident chooses to let their dogs (lots of them) run loose, unsupervised, and out of control, we have had increasing difficulty in walking past the house where they live. They would come charging at us, teeth bared, jaws snapping — and these are not small dogs.

Are we on private property?
No. We are in the public right of way, just trying to get past this particular spot.
Are our dogs under control?
Absolutely. Not only are they leashed, but they have prong collars on for additional control. Note: a prong collar is far more humane (and effective) than a choke collar, and far less destructive on an animal's neck than a regular collar if the dog pulls excessively (which could in turn damage its trachea).
Are the other dogs under control?
Absolutely NOT. They are not in a fence. They are not confined in any way, not in a fenced yard nor kept indoors. There is no underground "invisible" fence either. And there is no supervision.
Do we feel threatened and intimidated?
YES! We have every right to walk unmolested down this road. The scenery is wonderful. The people we occasionally meet are for the most part very friendly, and enjoy meeting our dogs. But because of the incident described below, we feel we cannot use this road for walking our dogs anymore. It is not safe.

Please understand: the road in question is the only one within a five mile radius that is suitable for this sort of dog walking. Most of the other country roads around here are too busy, and have too many tight corners with nowhere to jump if something like a dump truck comes barreling down the road your way at high speed (and they do, trust me; dump truck drivers, please slow down!).

The incident I refer to above occured today, when our dogs were being walked (under control, leashed, with prong collars) past that house. The dogs (at least five of them) came charging out of their driveway, into the public road, and started attacking one of our two dogs — the same dog that was only a week into recovery from a spay operation. They bit and grabbed her hind quarters, totally terrifying her and no doubt causing severe mental trauma. We will probably never be able to walk her past that house again, even if the problem (vicious in my opinion) dog pack is removed.

Because our dog did not appear to sustain any physical harm, according to county rules the attacking dogs cannot be considered "vicious" in a legal sense. But that does not change the fact that these dogs are now a menace to all members of the community around this area. Once the prey drive and pack mentality kick in, the situation gets rapidly out of control.

I am fortunate that my significant other did not sustain any injury. The owners/caretakers of the dog pack that attacked our dog are also extremely fortunate that did not happen. It is, in my opinion, only a matter of time before some far more serious incident occurs. That dog pack should be either confined safely in a fenced yard, kept indoors, or sent to the animal shelter. There is no other option.

— Pat Murphy, June 4th, 2008.

[Powered by Apache!] Patrick P. Murphy
National Radio Astronomy Observatory
Charlottesville, Virginia, USA