Y’know, for an accessory no longer than 2 metres (retractable models notwithstanding), the dog leash is a pretty hot topic. Particularly when it comes to whether or not we should have to use it and where (Where-ther? Can that be a word? Wherether? Anyway.).
For every jurisdiction that has an active leash law in place, there is a sizable number of people that will push back at it claiming the superior obedience of their dog(s). I have been walking my beloved pooches as long as I have been physically capable of keeping them under control and I can tell you that I have met some pretty well trained dogs. Some of them run the risk of embarrassing other dogs. Suck ups.
No, seriously! Some of these dogs should be on leash just to keep their humans under control!
Still, sadly, for all the super well trained dogs in our city, the vast majority of them are not trained that well. I can tell you that mine aren’t. Now, let me be clear, I am not talking about a dog that is totally off the rails nuts and beyond control. I am referring to dogs who are composed and balanced on leash and still friendly but can’t be trusted not to go running after a squirrel or up to someone else’s dog. This brings me to the City of Calgary’s bylaw specifically stating that our dogs must be on leash whenever they are a) not on our property, and b) not in a designated off leash area.
This, specifically, is the pain point for many dog parents. In fact, just recently, one elderly Calgarian became the subject of heated debate on how strict that law should be. In this case, Calgary resident Joanne Schnurr was fined the $100 penalty for not having a dog on leash when she was supposed to. Now, to be clear, we were not there but we do know that the bylaw was being disobeyed. The dog owner in question was contravening the bylaw. No one will dispute this. What is up for debate is how the bylaw is being handled.
Bylaws? Who Cares?
(Pardon the sarcasm)
The whole structure of the bylaw system in Calgary tends to leave many Calgarians scratching their heads. For many, it seems like the height of micromanagement. Still, for the sake of argument, let’s just for a moment agree that bylaws are in place for the comfort and safety of Calgarians. In the case of the leash laws in Calgary, it is intended to keep people – and their dogs – safe from other dogs. That is, after all, the mandate of Community Standards (formerly Animal Services): to keep people safe from animals. Whether or not we agree with it.
So now we have this situation where the bylaw restricting dogs to the end of a leash (no longer than 2m when not on owner’s property or in an off leash area), and the authority to enforce it, is alleged to have been abused. Knowing that the choice to issue a fine is actually up to the discretion of the bylaw officer, could this possibly have been the time to just engage in a friendly conversation about the bylaw, rather than going immediately to a ticket? In effect, drastically improving the relationship between the city’s bylaw officers and Calgarians. A review of by Community Standards will be the judge.
The media certainly makes it very clear what angle it would have you believe. Seriously, though, look at Duchess! Look at her! What was to be gained from ticketing this lady?
All this said, there are a lot of circumstances where this bylaw is very well justified. There are a great deal of more secluded areas of the city where some dog parents will let their dogs run off leash because they aren’t near a road or densely populated area. One of these is the Bow River Pathway that runs along both sides of the Calgary Zoo. Here is where bylaw should be focusing their presence. This is where you find the folks letting their dogs run off leash and will not hear another thing about it.
Dear Dog Parents,
To you, the dog parent who sees no problem with this, I plead. Consider other dogs when you do this. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that your dog is actually very friendly with everyone. How do you know mine are just as friendly? Even if they are, how can you take a gamble on my dog wanting to be approached while he has no ability to fight or flee? If your dog is the type to wander – not the dogs that avoid everyone else and stay right next to mom and dad, mind – why should her right to do so trump my dog’s right to have a successful walk?
Further, how does your dog do in natural areas or green spaces?
On two separate occasions this week, my pack and I were approached by two dogs whose parents thought very highly of their dogs’ behaviour off leash. One was wandering in and out of the bushes along the Bow. Could his dog parent say whether or not he would kill a clutch of ducklings hiding in that bush? Perhaps there was a porcupine hiding in the bush; or worse, broken glass or a syringe (a conversation for another day). On both occasions, these dogs came right up to my dogs who immediately – and literally – jumped at the occasion to say “HI!” Such is their wont on our walks. Largely. One of my dogs, however, is also prone to asserting himself in a pack and he is large enough to do so. Under these circumstances, should something have happened, will bylaw look at the fact that my dogs were protecting what territory they had or would they play the “Stimulus matches response” card and penalize me for these other dogs being hurt? Even though they should have been on leash.
On another totally separate occasion, I helped mediate a confrontation between two dog parents on a path. Both dogs were on leash but one, a bichon type, was on a retractable leash and she was allowed to wander much farther from her mom. This turned into a situation when the bichon came up behind another dog, a mudi, who didn’t even know she was there and snapped at the bichon. The situation would have been totally avoided had the retractable leash been kept at the manageable 2m maximum length and the bichon’s mom had announced her presence, allowing the mudi’s dad to give her space. Yet, it wasn’t, and thankfully we successfully reached a compromise where the mudi could have hurt the bichon because she was wandering too far from mom and both parties agreed to split the vet bill. But why should the mudi’s dad have had to pay anything, really? Where is a dog’s right to assert herself?
It isn’t just about you, it isn’t just about me
Allow me to put this another way. I am actually a big fan of compromise and diplomacy. To the dog parent who believes the leash law should be optional: How should my pack and I conduct ourselves on a path should our paths cross? Where is the middle ground? It is not my wont to infringe on the thing that gives someone else joy, but can we agree that your joy should not infringe upon my life and vice versa? What, in your mind, should be the procedure in the event of an incident? If my dog isn’t friendly and hurts your dog because she approached him, what are the next steps? Should my dog be held responsible? If so, how is that fair?
In the end, I do quite seriously commend some dog parents on the balanced behaviour their dogs demonstrate. Regardless of the breed. Truly, I do. All that said, though, is it really asking so much for you to take into consideration that my dogs might not be quite at that exceptional level of obedience? Considering that I was abiding by the quite trivial bylaws in place, should my dogs have to be tested just because you think your dog should get to run free anywhere in the city? Calgary has 150 off leash areas for our enjoyment spanning hundreds of hectares. Far more than any other city in the country. There is more than enough space in Calgary for you to let your dog run free where a situation is far less likely to occur. At the very least, could you at least put your dog’s leash on when someone else is walking her dogs past you?
We don’t like bylaws. I don’t think we’re supposed to. It’s kind of like how we don’t like not being able to bring beers with us when rafting along the Bow. Yet, like it or not, these bylaws are in place. What this article should show is that, sadly, they don’t end up amounting to much when we, as Calgarians, don’t amp up and govern our own actions to take others into consideration. That goes for all of us.