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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.]