Multiple lost dogs in Washington wilderness is important reminder to use a leash on local trails

As someone who lives in the place where many in the Seattle area choose to recreate, I have to say, you all make me sad. First off, this is NOT about any lost dog in particular. I do understand that there are true accidents and circumstances that are out of everyone’s control. However, for the most part, lost dog stories can be avoided with one narrow strip of nylon.

A leash.

See I get how you feel when you come out here to the wilderness. “I’m in nature! My dog is in nature! We should be one with the nature!” Off comes the leash and on comes the cavorting, romping and reveling but all too often this feeling of freedom, of wild abandon comes at a high cost.

Lost dogs.

Lots of them lately. A quick count on one local Facebook group shows eleven in recent history. I understand, sometimes things are out of an owners’ control…broken leashes, slipped harnesses or pure accidents. It happens. But all too often the cause of these poor lost pups is too much confidence in the dog’s ability to execute a simple recall in a suddenly not so simple environment.

Dogs are funny creatures. Not humans clearly, but somehow not animals either. They exist in a kind of ill-defined plane of existence. We know they’re animals, but we treat them like little, kind-of sort-of humans, too. Then we get outside and suddenly decide they should run like the wind.  That’s not a good idea and here are a few reasons why:

Leash laws

Yes, we have them everywhere. In the interest of space and time I won’t go into all of them (you can find a good article here), but basically there is no place in the State of Washington where your dog can go and be out of control. Control means heels when told, stays; refrains from barking; is restrained from approaching any other animal or person. It does not mean you lose sight of your pup or you allow it to eliminate without picking up after it. Your dog will stop on a dime and return to you when you call, no exceptions. If that means Fido is always leashed, then so be it.

Eutrophication

I’ve said it before and now I’m saying it again, dog (and cat) poop contributes nitrogen and phosphorus to ground and surface water, which can change the growing environments for plant and animal life. Invasive plant species, such as brambles or nettles, can take over forest undergrowth making it unsuitable for its native species. If this contaminated water makes it to the ocean, it can reduce harvestable fish and shellfish and decrease biodiversity over all. Dog poop is not the same as wild animal poop. Wildlife scat provides benefit to the ecosystem by dispersing seeds and other essential nutrients. Dog poop is a detriment because it contributes chemicals such as nitrogen and phosphorus to the environment. And its not just your dog, its yours and the estimated 1,849,218 other dogs in Washington State.

Damage

You may think to yourself “Me and Fluffy are out here all alone. What does it matter if she’s off leash?” It matters. Dogs do much damage when allowed to roam free in sensitive areas. You see dog parks are designed to have low impact on the environment, mountain trails are not designed for your dog. Off leash dogs can disturb ground nesting birds or urinate in areas making it unhabitable for the wildlife who normally lives there. Dogs can chase, at best, or even worse kill vulnerable species when allowed to roam. They trample vegetation and disturb vital habitat. So yes, if a dog poops in the woods and no one is around to see, it still matters and it is against the law.

Distress

Surprise! Not every dog or human wants to greet your dog. Trails are narrow and sometimes VERY crowded. Its hard enough to get up Mt. Si on a sunny weekend all things being controlled. Add a couple of unruly off leash dogs and it’s a recipe for disaster. Some people are afraid of dogs and don’t want your dog anywhere close to them. Some DOGS are afraid of dogs and REALLY don’t want them close. Canine fear sometimes results in cowering and avoidance, but sometimes fear can be more overtly displayed and result in acts of aggression. Who would be at fault? Why it would be the person with the unleashed dog even if the unleashed dog is the nicest pooch that ever existed. You cannot allow a dog to approach an unknown dog, have a problem and expect to be in the right.

We LOVE your dogs. We like it when you bring them to our beautiful trails and waterways. We want to pat them when we see them in the pet store or safely leashed at the lake – not worry when we see them missing on social media or search for them in the driving rain or freezing cold. We just want everyone’s experience on the trails to be safe, positive and without incident.

Please keep your pup safe by keeping them leashed.

[Contributing writer Melissa Grant is a North Bend resident, wildlife enthusiast and owner / pet trainer at Miss Lola’s Academy for Wayward Dogs.]

Comments

  1. Keith Peter says

    Your just against dogs. Dogs deserve to run free. I under stand if you dog is confrontational.

    • Jeanne Klein says

      Seriously?? Dogs do not “deserve” to run free. That’s like saying “my 3 year old deserves to run free”.

  2. Well that would be odd considering I’ve chosen to work with dogs as my life’s work. There is no “deserve” if a dog can’t handle it. As for my dog being confrontational, you nailed it, all 20 schnoodlely pounds of her. In all seriousness you seem to have missed the point of the article entirely…

  3. Caryn Anderson says

    Seriously Keith, dogs deserve to run free? Maybe at home in a fenced yard, or at a fenced in dog park, but out on hiking trails or walking paths, no way.

    • Bill Sharppe says

      I’m with you Caryn.
      This weekend we were in a high mountain area with cliffs & talus slopes close by when our family golden retriever caught scent of a mountain goat. We were VERY lucky that our dog made his way back.
      Bill

  4. Melissa, Great article that appears to me as focusing on responsible pet ownership, rather than what was mistakenly perceived as a statement of not letting dogs run free at all. I see your point as dogs should be able to run free, however, there is a responsibility factor as well.

    • No, Sandy, dogs should really not run free in public spaces. There is no such things as sure recall with a dog – even a highly trained police dog. Also, nobody wants to encounter your dog running free on a trail and suddenly be taken away from their relaxing nature experience, wondering what your dog is going to do – jump on them or attack? Even if you did have 100% recall and control, which you don’t, the other person doesn’t know that and has to assume to the worst is possible. So, you have already degraded their experience.

      • I agree. I constantly run into off leash dogs on the trails. That, along with the doggy poop bags I find everywhere are a strong indication that dog owners have no interest in abiding by the rules. It’s my opinion dogs should just be banned outright from the trails.

  5. Steve Doodads says

    Dogs are detrimental to wildlife.
    When wild animals smell dog they avoid the area. The impact is reduced wildlife habitat.

  6. While typically illegal, off-leash dogs are highly disruptive to wildlife and other outdoor users, and in the long-term, dog-owners ignoring the rules may lead to prohibitions of all dogs. See for instance:
    https://www.oregonmetro.gov/sites/default/files/2017/09/28/Metro-Recreation-Ecology-Literature-Review.pdf
    “A note about dogs. The research we reviewed strongly suggests that dogs are more alarming to wildlife than any non-motorized recreational user group without dogs. We previously reviewed the literature pertaining to the effects of dogs on wildlife (Appendix 1).[287] *The evidence that dogs negatively affect wildlife is found repeatedly throughout the literature. People with dogs – on leash and even more so for off-leash dogs – appear to be more detrimental to wildlife than people without dogs. Land managers should consider prohibiting dogs at sites where conserving wildlife is a top priority.”
    *Hennings, L.A., Impacts of dogs on wildlife and water quality. 2016. Metro Regional Government:, Portland, OR.

  7. Dan Oshima says

    Great article!

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