Our local town council recently send a note around reminding people to keep their dogs on leads, especially as it’s winter now and Brisbane where I live is home to so many migratory birds that the dogs might kill. Birds or no, I’m a great fan of dogs being kept on leads, having been bitten so often as a child I thought it was what dogs did to greet a person.
Even now, when I see a dog off-lead approaching I panic, especially if its owner says the dog’s just playful. As a child, I was bitten on the ankle while trying to ride away on my bike from the playful dachshund up the street. I was bitten on the wrist by a playful corgi I knew well when I bent down to pat her new puppies – my first experience of the ferocity of maternal instinct. And when I still little enough that I didn’t even need to bend down far to pat a small dog, I was bitten by a terrier sitting outside a shop with its old owner at the beach town where we went for holidays. The terrier didn’t even pretend to be playful, just attacked, as it had several other children my mother later found out from the shop owner. I still have a scar on my eyebrow. Less than a centimetre lower and it would have taken my eye.
Perhaps because of these experiences, I not only keep our dog Spike (who, incidentally, was born without the aggression gene) on a lead whenever we go walking. When we are approached by a small child I make Spike sit down and keep a firm hand on her collar so she cannot move, and I watch everything the child and Spike do to one another. If the child is old enough, I remind them to always ask an owner if it’s all right to pat a dog. Not that asking helps really. I could have asked any of the owners of the dogs that bit me and except for the old man who owned the terrier – he didn’t much care, according to the shop owner – all would have said their dogs never bite anyone or chase anything. Up our street there’s a rottweiler behind what I always think is a flimsy fence, made of chicken wire and one or two metal stakes. We walk past every afternoon and as Spike is currently dating the cat that lives in the same house, we go remarkably close to that fence. The rottweiler, unable to contain its rage, snorts like a dragon in between its very fierce barks – fire from its mouth would be the least surprising thing to happen next – and jumps up and down on the spot, easily high enough to clear the little fence. We drag poor Spike – who seems to have no idea that she’s someone’s planned hors d’oeuvre – off against her will. The rottweiler’s owners told me the rottweiler wouldn’t hurt a fly.
The Council’s recent reminder came at a good time, not just for birds. Lately, walking up my mountain I have seen wallabies bounding through the forest in a way that suggests we need more forest. On a lovely winter morning earlier this week, I heard then saw them going full pelt past us. I thought at first this was unbridled joy. But in their wake came the biggest dog I’ve ever seen, catching up catching up. Down the track a ways, I found the dog’s owner, identifiable from the dogless lead slung over her shoulder. “Was that your dog?” I said, rather more severely than I intended, having been afraid for the wallabies, flashing back to the dachshund, the corgi and the terrier. “Oh yes,” she said. “He loves the bush.” She sounded like she was in charge of the forest. “He’s trying to kill two wallabies,” I said. “Oh no, he’s not,” she said. “He’s just playful.” I was unable to draw that distinction and suspected the wallabies weren’t either. “You’re supposed to have dogs on leads,” I said. “I live here,” she said. “I can do what I like.” I wished I was some sort of dog owner policing person right then.
Dogs on leads, folks. It’s good for wildlife. It’s good for children. Why wouldn’t you?