To leash or not to leash is a topic I have written about before but after a recent discussion on this thought I would revisit the issue. As a runner I have been chased and bit numerous times. It is not uncommon. I think when it comes to leashing your dog an owner should know their dog and choose properly.

Grand Traverse County does have a leash law and dogs are required to be leashed at all times unless on the owners premises and are subject to a maximum $500 fine for non-compliance. This is a law that is difficult to enforce due to time and manpower. Based on the number of dogs I see off leash I often wonder if people are unaware of the law or simply choose to ignore it.

But two recent trends seem to have developed relating to leashing dogs at area parks and trails. The first that I have noticed is that fewer and fewer people leash their dogs. The second is that people without dogs are confronting dog owners, sometimes using abusive language, and more and more of these incidents are starting to be reported to township officials.

I do not have exact numbers regarding the percentage of people who leash or do not at our area parks. For that reason as an example I am going to use numbers from Nov. 13. Today I skied at Hickory Meadows. There were five dogs there during the time that I skied and zero dogs were on leashes.

I cannot say I never see a dog on a leash and that 100 percent of dog owners are breaking the law but a dog on a leash has become a rare occasion. Which has lead to the rise of confrontations regarding unleashed dogs.

My dog passed away last year. He was neurotic on many levels and for that reason I rarely took him off my property. But when I did he was always leashed. I knew my dog and that leashing him was an absolute. I know there are dogs much better behaved than mine that do not have leash aggression, are trained well, and come when they are called.

For the most part these are the dogs I encounter on a daily basis and they usually ignore me. But, what about my girlfriends who are afraid of dogs? It does not matter if a dog is friendly. They are scared. One has tried to jump on my back on more than one occasion and I have lost track of the number of times I have been used as a human shield.

See, the leash law is not just for the dogs — it is for people too. Dog lovers love dogs and they have a hard time understanding that not everyone feels the same way. It does not occur to some of them that some people do not like to be jumped on, slobbered on, covered in muddy paw prints or at worst knocked down, hurt or bit.

Recently a friend asked a man with an unleashed dog why he did not leash. His reply was that his dog loved to run so he was going to let him. He figured the risk of getting a ticket was low, if he had to pay one every couple years, it was worth it for his dog.

On another occasion this fall I was running and chased by a growling dog off-leash. The owner called the dog and said, “I don’t know what’s happening, she never does that.”

The next day I happened to run at the same place about the same time. The same woman’s dog again growled and came at me. Again the woman said, “I don’t know what’s happening she never does that.”

To which I replied “except for when she did it yesterday.”

Another example of the risk being worth it to her because I am sure there are many days when that woman does not see another person on the trail.

My girlfriend who is afraid of dogs has started telling people politely that Grand Traverse County has a leash law. Others are not so kind and more of these instances are being reported.

So what is the answer? I think kindness and thoughtfulness is a good place to start. I think dog owners should keep in mind not everyone loves dogs. That the leash law is not just for dogs but for people too and to be respectful of those boundaries. More education regarding the leash laws might be helpful. I know signs are posted but I also know lots of people do not read signs and also choose to ignore the law.

There is a parks project going before city commissioners to designate the first on-leash dog beach in Traverse City. Until now dogs have not been allowed at area beaches, another law that may surprise some people. Maybe a larger section of a community park could be designated off-leash or maybe a whole park. I do not know the answer but it seems like an issue that needs to be addressed.

Kelley Peterson is an avid trail runner and cross-country skier. The Traverse City native serves on the TART Trails board. Find out more at traversetrails.org or contact her at kepeterson@chartermi.net

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