A few thoughts on dogs, dog parks and dog bylaw
If you share your life with a dog, you are likely used to seeing signs such as “NO DOG’S ALLOWED,” “DOGS MUST BE ON LEASH” or “NO DOGS – SUBJECT TO $500 FINE.”
It sometimes seems that the world has become a strange, overly-regulated place divided into two groups of people; those who love dogs and those who would prefer if dogs stayed behind chain link fences for their whole life and were not allowed anywhere.
Life in a melting pot
Living in Vancouver Canada, I have observed an interesting phenomenon. The city is a true melting pot of people from all over the world and it seems that the acceptance or dislike of dogs is deeply ingrained in cultural values of different nationalities. It seems that the more tolerant and less orthodox a nation is, the better the lives of their dogs are.
It’s not a rare sight to see people panic and lift their children in the air when my totally harmless dog and I show up in a park. As a result of this trend, some municipalities have imposed anti-dog rules.
For example, in West Vancouver BC, there is seawalk where dogs must walk behind the fence alongside the railway tracks, apart from their people.
When my dog Skai and I went for a walk there, I really didn’t like the idea of him walking two meters away from a railway track and decided to keep him by my side.
It took exactly five seconds before a coifed up hairdo lady threw a hysterical fit, yelling at me that “If I didn’t put “that dog” behind the fence, she was going to call the police!”
At that moment, I didn’t know whether I should laugh or cry. It showed how ridiculous and silly our bylaws and people could be when it comes to dogs.
Have you heard of dog toilets?
One of my favorite dog walking areas is nearby our house. A beautiful river canyon with old growth forest trees, where the trails are covered with moss and the air is fresh and crisp. One day I parked my car at the regular spot and noticed a new square “sandbox” filled with gravel. When I got closer, I also found a poop scooper attached to a line, right there in the middle of the beautiful pristine rain forest. Above this contraption there was a big sign attached to a post saying: “Dog toilets.”
The idea was that dog owners were supposed to take their dog on the patch, have them do No 1 and No 2 right there, scoop it up, put it all in the bin and go on.
What? I was trying to see if I was dreaming or awake? Is this a real “Sh.. Box for dogs in the middle of the forest?” Is my dog supposed go right here where one thousand other dogs go, when he can just do his business in the forest? I laughed and continued on.
However, the situation became less funny, when I ran into new signs on the trail such as “NO DOGS ALLOWED” or “DOGS MUST BE ON LEASH” and “NO DOGS ON THE LAWN” in the area where I used to practice yoga on the lawn while Skai usually snoozed right there beside me.
The trees don’t need to be told how to grow.
This line is from the lyric’s Sarah McLachlan’s song, The Ordinary Miracle, reminds us that we humans often try to control something that doesn’t need to be controlled. In fact, I’m a strong believer that nature is an incredible example of how order and harmony can exist without excessive control. The trees do not need to be told how to grow and most people generally know what is polite and what is not.
I’ve been blessed to be able to bring my dog Skai every year to Maui, Hawaii. Maui too has dog leash bylaws, but the difference is that nobody seems to obey them. Dogs, children and adults are all together on the beach, playing, swimming and having fun.
I could sit on that beach every single day and watch the fun and happiness with no one bossing anyone around. There are no coifed up, edgy ladies throwing a fit, there are no bossy self-appointed dog cops threatening others and there are no parents screaming, yelling and lifting their kids up in the air.
It appears that dog guardians act responsibly and let their dogs off leash only if the dog is well trained and behaved.
To me, a place like this is the picture of heaven on earth.
The other side of the coin
Perhaps you think that I only want to talk about the dog bylaws and leash laws from a dog guardian’s point of view, but I won’t.
It’s frustrating to see how a few ignorant and careless dog owners ruin it for others. I’ve seen a number of situations where dogs run around beaches and parks, out of control. They are like a bunch of party crashers who come in uninvited, rude and drunk. They steal kids’ toys, sprint through picnic spreads and knock over children while the owners don’t seem to care or even worse, think it’s funny
They think it’s OK to let their poorly behaved dog loose in a park and disrespect the boundaries of people and other dogs. They also turn their back away when their pooch takes a big steamy dump right in the middle of the beach.
Is there a solution to the problem?
First, we must ask a question. Do we really need more dog walking fences, more over crowded dog park ghettos, more dog toilets that are a prime breeding ground for germs OR shall we follow the example of places and regions that are progressive, where dogs can socialize and learn proper manners and where their guardians act responsibly, pick up after their dogs, control them and consider others
About 40 percent of families in the developed world live with dogs. That’s nearly half the population! However, in most places, there are only a few dog-friendly beaches and parks around.
We dog lovers pay taxes and, in my opinion, deserve a proportional number of dog-friendly parks and beaches. At the same time, those who don’t enjoy the company of dogs deserve a space where they won’t be disturbed.
I suggest we create a number of 'dog optional beaches' proportionate to the number of families living with dogs. This would solve the current issues between dog lovers and those who would perhaps love dogs if they got to know them better.
Can dogs live their lives on leash?
One of the reasons why I created the ticket alert function on Spy Dog – our lost and found mobile app – is that I wanted to send a clear message to the bylaw makers and establish an acceptable situation for both sides.
I was surprised that a few dog people were opposed to dogs being off leash. Some people got upset, suggesting that there are better ways of exercising dogs than letting them run free.
I was intrigued by these comments and when I asked why, I learned that the main reason was that they had aggressive dogs who didn’t like to be approached by other dogs.
While I sympathize with these dogs and their people, these issues are often due to lack of socialization and off leash time. Aggressive dogs are socially unskilled and frightened and, more often than not, they bark and act aggressively only on leash. As soon as the leash is dropped, they run to the other dog, bark, perhaps sniff and the drama is over.
There are only a few truly aggressive dogs out there and in such cases, I don’t think the solution is to punish all other dogs and put them on leash. Instead, I suggest working with an experienced behaviorist.
As a side note, I strongly oppose the use of electric collars, choke chains and other medieval devices to control dogs and make the situation only more stressful and traumatic. Using a front-clip harness is a much better solution.
The truth is, no healthy dog can live his or her life on the leash. As a vet, I hope that my thoughts expressed here will serve as a starting point toward building a bridge of understanding, tolerance and compassion.
There’s no doubt in my mind that dogs bring incredible benefits to our society. Scientific studies confirm that people who have dogs live longer and are happier.
Dogs teach us that the most important part of life is to play, spend time with those we love and set clear boundaries when it comes to relationships with others.
I will never accept that a dog is 'just a dog' and should spend his or her life behind a chainlink fence.
To me dogs are the greatest teachers people can have, they are souls traveling in a dog’s body and deserve the same love and care as people do. Because of our canines, the world is a much better place.
Thank you, dogs!
© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM