The love affair Americans have with their pets is no secret – we spend millions of dollars on our pets every year. In return we ask a lot from our pets. We ask them to live in a human world. That can be quite challenging for a dog or a cat – after all they aren’t human. The responsibility for helping them navigate the human world falls to the humans. And I, for one, thinks that’s a fair exchange – my dogs, who have a paw shaped grip on my heart, can trust me to look out for them and keep them out of potentially risky situations.

Amazingly a simple daily activity for a human and canine – the walk – can result in unintended consequences. A friend of Crossroads Pets recently shared this story with us.

While on a walk she saw a woman with two medium/large dogs in the distance who  appeared friendly. One of the dogs began following her, while the other stayed near her pet guardian.  The pet guardian called the dog back. So far so good, right? In a split second the dog rushed back toward our friend, barking furiously, knocking her to the ground. The other dog joined in, standing on the other side of the woman on the ground.  The dog’s guardian finally called them off, apologized, and explained that that had never happened. She did have leashes for the dogs in the car.

Our friend walked away shaken with a few scratches and bruises. Not far away were a young girl and her mom – damage to the child could have been much greater.

Most states, counties and cities have some form of control laws and ordinances, often referred to as leash laws. Tennessee is no exception. According to Tennessee state law:

 § 44-8-413. Injury caused by dogs; civil liability; exceptions; limitations

 (a)(1) The owner of a dog has a duty to keep that dog under reasonable control at all times, and to keep    that dog from running at large. A person who breaches that duty is subject to civil liability for any  damages suffered by a person who is injured by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in or on the private property of another.

(2) Such a person may be held liable regardless of whether the dog has shown any dangerous propensities or whether the dog’s owner knew or should have known of the dog’s dangerous propensities.

At face value the laws seem obvious – keeping dogs in public under control. In this situation keeping the dogs on a leash may have protected our friend from being knocked down and kept the dog’s guardian from an embarrassing situation.

SCL_8693While this law doesn’t specifically call for dogs to be kept on leashes in public, leashes are an effective method for keeping dogs under control, which is the purpose of the law. Leashes also help dog guardians keep their furry friends from harm. Dogs on leash can easily be guided away from potential injury, like stepping on broken glass or running into street traffic. A dog running down the street or in the park, with a leash dangling behind lets people know instantly that someone’s canine companion got away and may need help finding his way home. A dog running down the street without a leash (or collar) may be misidentified as a stray and turned into animal control or taken in by a new family and never reunited with her original family. Many of the dogs that come into Crossroads Pets’ adoption program were picked up as strays by MACC.  I always wonder who could be missing their dog and feel sad for the dog who may still be missing his humans.

So how do I keep my dogs from potential danger? How do you?  When I walk out the door with any dog, he is securely leashed and I am on the lookout. If an off-leash dog appears down the street or trail, we do a quick about face and change directions. 9 times out of 10 my dog will ignore other dogs. Sometimes at least one of my dogs will bark or growl and I may not be able to figure out the reason for the negative reaction. Avoiding a confrontation keeps the walk pleasant.

Whether we realize it or not, we do ask a lot of our canine companions when we bring them into our human world.  In return it’s up to us to help them navigate safely in the human world. Keeping everyone safe – canine, guardian and people in the community – is worth the extra effort of snapping on a leash before heading out the door.

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