Opinion

VIEWPOINT | Get a leash on loose bully dogs at Greenbank Farm

By MERRITT CLIFTON

There are very few people, if any, who have written more on behalf of dogs over the past 40-odd years than I have, or spent more time down the back alleys of the developing world observing dogs in the habitats in which they came to co-evolve with humans.

For more than 25 years my full-time occupation has been doing research and providing information service to the humane community worldwide, as editor of the Animal People newspaper and in many related advisory capacities to organizations doing dog sterilization vaccination, rescue, and adoptions.

I am also a runner, who for many years has frequented the trails at Greenbank Farm. Runners, horseback riders, hikers, birders, and berry-pickers enjoyed the Greenbank Farm trails long before they were open to dogs off-leash. When Greenbank Farm formally designated some of the trail area for off-leash dog activity, signs were prominently posted at all access points and at one major trail crossing which make clear that off-leash dogs are nonetheless to be under control at all times, and that aggressive behavior is not allowed.

Recently these quite reasonable rules have been routinely and flagrantly violated by people who seem to equate allowing dogs to run off-leash with allowing them to run amok. During the past two months I have been bitten by a Malinois, lunged at by a mastiff, and accosted aggressively by pit bulls on multiple occasions — twice on the same morning by pit bulls who were running as small packs. This is more incidents in 60 days than in the preceding seven and a half years, and signifies a distinct deterioration in the manners and behavior of not only the dogs at Greenbank Farm but also the people who bring them — two of whom have told me that if I don’t like being lunged at and accosted by their dogs, I should run somewhere else.

As my background should make clear, this has nothing to do with my not liking dogs, and everything to do with not liking dangerous, irresponsible, and uncivil behavior. It is not normal dog behavior for a dog to rush aggressively toward other people or animals; to “play” in an aggressive manner without making a “play-bow” and obtaining the permission of the other animal or person first; or to bite a passerby apropos of nothing at all, whether the person is running, walking, or hopping on a pogo-stick. Neither is it responsible and considerate dog care for a person with a dog to allow the dog to do any of these things. A dog who is allowed to run off leash should nonetheless not be allowed to run out of sight of the dog’s caretaker, or beyond voice range. The dog should be immediately responsive to the command to return.

Probably 99 percent of the dogs and dog-walkers who use Greenbank Farm obey these basic rules. I know many of them, and greet them by name when we pass on the trails. There are people who allow as many as half a dozen dogs at a time to run off leash there, whose dogs have never to my knowledge been a problem to anyone, because they and their people obey reasonable etiquette. These dogs don’t chase or confront people or other dogs, make friends and do a “play bow” before “playing,” and respond to command. Sharing the Greenbank Farm trails with these dogs — and sometimes running with them — is a pleasure.

The off-leash “bully dog” behavior is an entirely different matter, and runs the risk of spoiling a beloved island institution for everyone.

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