Thursday, January 17, 2013

A message to dog owners

There are a lot of 'first times' that a cyclist goes through - first time on a bike, first ride over 100km, first race, first time doing well at a race, and first time getting run off a bike path by an angry dog that bites you in the leg and rips your pants apart. Thankfully not all cyclists experience that last 'first', but unfortunately for me, this past Tuesday I did.

I rode down to Olympia on Portage ave to pickup a new light. While riding home, I took my usual route - down Portage, duck under Route 90 and ride into Omand's Park toward the footbridge, when I'd normally cross over to Wellington. When riding on bike/walking paths, it's common for me to pass dog walkers, especially when in a park. And honestly until this week I have always enjoyed meeting dogs on the trail. They usually run up to me looking very excited - with tails wagging and tongues hanging out - I say hello and pet them, and they take off with their owners. To be clear, I really like dogs.

This encounter was entirely different and has really made me think about the responsibility dog owners have when walking through public parks and environments.

Here's how it went down:

I was about 50 meters from reaching the chain-link fence infront of the rail tracks when I passed a woman walking toward me. Immediately after I saw a dog sprinting from the train tracks down the path toward me. It was a large dog, perhaps a Boxer or some other similar breed, with a spiked choker collar around its neck, with a leash dragging on the ground behind it. Something felt different about the way the dog was running at me. It didn't feel like the other dogs I've come across, this one seemed on a mission. It ran full steam into my left side, knocking me off balance and off the packed bike path into the soft snow. Then it clamped down on my left calf, tearing my pants apart and breaking through my skin in three places.

And this may sound weird, but that isn't what really upset me. What upset me was the response of the owner.

At first she said nothing at all, just tried to keep her wild dog down and not attack me again. I stood and stared at her and her dog, waiting for her to say something. Apologize, ask if I was ok, anything! Nothing was said at all. Hey, maybe she didn't notice that her dog just bit me. So I took the initiative to informed her, "Hey, your dog just bit me in the leg...!".

Response? "That's the last time I let it off its leash".

Oh! Well that's just GREAT! So glad I won't have to worry about your attack dog eating my leg the next time I'm in the park. And yes, I am ok thanksforaskingyouidiot.

The conversation continued in that vein for the next five minutes, without an apology given. When I informed her that her dog had destroyed my clothes, bitten me and knocked me off my bike, the response was a 'courteous' "Want me to buy you some new pants? Fine. I'll buy you some new pants. What do you want me to do about it? ".

Actually, a lot of things. This has prompted me to come up with a guideline for dog owners to consider when bringing their dogs into a shared-use park, especially if it acts out against someone else.

1 - If you are taking your dog for a walk in a park, keep it on a leash at ALL times. There is a reason why off-leash parks were created. I was lucky that the owner was nearby when it bit me. The dog latched to my leg until the owner pulled it off. What if I was a young child on the opposite side of the baseball field? How long might it have taken you to run across a snowy field to pull your dog off? Think about it.

2 - If your dog does end up biting someone, ask IMMEDIATELY if they are hurt and need help. Don't make a show of scolding your bad dog infront of the victim. Make sure they are ok, and if not, get help.

3 - Take as much responsibility for your dog as if you had injured the person yourself. Anyone who has ever owned a pet will know that animals are 100% a product of their environment. Dogs aren't born predisposed to attack and bite people. There is a reason some dogs run up to people and want to play, and others run up with aggression. The reason is their owners. If you have an angry and violent dog, you are a bad dog owner and probably shouldn't have one to begin with.

4 - Don't make excuses for your dog. I don't care if your dog is normally gentle and friendly. The fact is, it bite someone without being startled, frightened, intimidated or cornered. It actively ran down an open path and bit someone. That means it is not a friendly dog and is in fact a danger to society. Maybe it's not aggressive to YOU, but to a stranger in a park, when your dog comes running at full tilt, it doesn't actually look like this:

It looks a lot more like this:

The last thing someone wants to hear after being bitten by a dog is how nice and gentle and friendly the dog normally is. That is of absolutely no consolation whatsoever.

5 - Accept the consequences and encourage a repot to be filed. If you have a car accident it goes without saying that you pull over, exchange information, and report the accident. There are due processes in place for situations like that. Being bitten by a dog is not something most people know how to deal with. What do you do? Who do you call?

Don't wait to be asked! Voluntarily provide your name, phone number, and contact information. This is so important in a situation like this because we aren't talking about a broken fender or cracked windshield here, we're talking about the risk of disease and illness. Has your dog had all it's vaccinations and shots? If not, well you are an idiot even more. If it has, tell the person! Because I didn't know anything about the dog or its history, I had two calls today from people introducing themselves as a public health professional following up on a rabies inquiry. RABIES. That is what people have to deal with after being bitten. Make it easier on us and be available for questions so this doesn't' have to be such an awful experience.

6 - And lastly, don't try to buy your way out of the consequences. Look, if your dog bites someone, all that happens is it goes into quarantine for 10 days to make sure it didn't act aggressively as a result of illness. What is wrong with that? Yes I get it, you love your dog. 10 days is not going to hurt anybody. And if after 10 days it is still acting with aggression, it goes into a rehabilitation program to help it calm down. Sounds good to me.

Rant adjourned.


halloewen said...

Well said Mark and thanks for the post.

halloewen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mhandsco said...

A boxer's the only breed that has taken me down. I don't know anything about dogs - I'm allergic actually, so I avoid them generally - but is there something extra crazy about boxers?

Nightmare. Heal, brother.

JP said...

well said Mark. I like dogs too, but dog owners are responsible for following the rules regarding care, tethering, and cleanup. Personally I think you let her off easy... this could have easily been a full police report IMHO.

Unknown said...

Good news today, the owner has been tracked down by the city and the appropriate steps are being taken to make sure the dog isn't sick or dangerous.

Unknown said...

Excellent post Mark. I am really glad that you're okay!! How scary! I was attacked by a dog one time....well let me re-word that. I was walking my dog and the dog attacked my dog and tried to attack me but then focused on mangling my dog instead.
This woman is a complete idiot and I really hope that the dog is okay. If he/she isn't sick, I really hope that the owner is investigated. Dogs aren't aggressive like that unless they've been shown aggression....clearly she's an idiot and who knows if the dog is either a shelter dog, foster dog or if she (or someone else) roughs him/her at home.
The man that owned the dog that attacked my dog wasn't fined or anything....his dog was put down. I was really upset about that. He probably got another one and it probably has the same behavior problems because he has probably brought it up the same way!
Please keep Ben and I posted on what happens with this!

Janine said...

I hope you are healing well! And I support your position completely.
Boxers are not all crazy. It is much more the owners who are at fault for how a dog behaves.

CycleChick said...

My Dad was knocked off his bike a number of years ago by an off leash dog (not in an off leash park). He fell badly, breaking all of his ribs on one side and puncturing a lung. At the hospital the doctor thought he had torn his aorta and was not going to make it. I received a call to come quickly to the hospital to say goodbye. Thankfully the doctor was wrong and he is alive and well and still riding his bike – a treasured old Bianchi he bought from Lindsay back in the 1980s.

Dogs should be kept on leashes. Period.

Kim said...

I'm catching up on my reading so I am a little delayed in commenting.

I ride through the exact location you refer to almost every day when I am commuting regularly to work and there are always dogs off leash in there. I am fortunate I have never been chased by one but the thought crosses my mind every single time.

I too am not afraid of dogs and I think this helps. Ever notice that the cyclists that suffer the most dog chases/attacks are the ones that don't like and are afraid of dogs? They can smell fear on you and that alone can provoke an attack in some breeds .... so the only thing I can add to your excellent description is try and stay calm at all times. Sometimes easier said than done.

Anonymous said...

This is a very helpful article, Mark. Dogs are man’s best friend indeed. But if they start to attack people, the owner must provide rabies vaccination papers and offer to take care of the medical expenses, regardless he or she has or hasn't got insurance. Also, the owner must accept personal responsibility for his or her dog's actions, like sending the dog to an obedience class. Spreading awareness is really a must. And I can only imagine how this experience must have been scary for you. Glad you didn't get seriously injured. Stay safe on the road!

Robert @