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In the Doghouse

By Yosha Bourgea

"THERE'S A LEASH LAW, you know," snarls the jogger. He speaks without breaking stride, so I don't even try to respond. By the time my brain has formulated a snappy comeback --"Yeah, I know"--he's far out of hearing range. Confrontation is not my strong suit. Yeah, I know there's a leash law. I also know that on this quiet paved path just off Willowside Road, where I take my dogs for their daily walk, I have yet to see the leash law enforced. That's why we come here, and why we have plenty of company from other canines and their companions.

But while most of the pedestrians, joggers, and bicyclists we pass are the friendly kind, there are some who just don't want anything to do with dogs, especially ones they don't know. The fate of Diane Whipple, who was mauled to death outside her San Francisco apartment last month, has added fuel to their fear. In Petaluma, angry complaints have prompted two public hearings by the Parks and Recreation Commission to determine whether city officials should continue to allow dogs without leashes at Oak Hill Park. No dog-related injuries have been reported in the park, but protesters argue that mixing loose dogs with children and elderly people is simply unsafe.

These fears are understandable. Some dogs are too aggressive to be unleashed, and some, like the 120-pound Presa Canario that killed Whipple, should not be allowed in public under any circumstances. But then there are cream puffs like Jennie and Isabella, my two border collie mixes, who either kowtow to strangers or avoid them altogether. They deserve to have a place where they can exercise freely, without the restrictions that justifiably apply to dangerous or untrained dogs.

Some public parks feature enclosed leash-free areas, but most of these are pathetic rectangles of dirt, not much larger than the average backyard. You might as well leave your dog at home--which plenty of folks do. That kind of neglect is unconscionable, but quite legal. On the other hand, you can be slapped with a fine for walking your dog without a leash in a public park--regardless of how much time you've invested in training her.

People who want to avoid dogs when they exercise can choose from plenty of locations where dogs are prohibited or restricted. Is it too much to ask that dogs and their friends be given the same consideration?

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From the March 1-8, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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