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Unleashed emotions

Running with man's best friend is joyful for some - and scary for others.

I live and run in an area where there are lots of dogs. There are big dogs, little dogs, nice dogs, and not-so-nice dogs. There are dogs that always seem glad to see me and others whose intent seems to be to chase me and make sure that I do my speedwork that day. The dogs, in general, seem fine. It's the dog owners that I worry about.

Not long ago, a reader of my blog asked what to do if you're running and are approached by an unleashed dog. When I posted my answer, I had no idea it would generate the most heated responses I've ever received. Turns out, you can say what you want about people's children, but you better not say anything bad about their dogs - even if they're chasing you.

My response was that it's best to stop, face the dog, and yell at it. Usually that will slow the dog down and make it think about what it's doing. It doesn't always work, but it's the first, best thing.

That's when the trouble started. The ensuing debate, filled with the kind of acrimony usually reserved for politics and religion, centered on whether dogs should be leashed or allowed to run free. The arguments on both sides were passionate.

The "dogs gotta be dogs" side argued that while some dogs might be aggressive, their Muffin or Thor - depending on the breed - was always friendly and approached even strangers with a wagging tail and slobbering demeanor. Their dog was their running partner, and they believed it shouldn't be penalized for having an extra pair of legs.

On the other side of the debate were runners who didn't want to be hassled (or worse) while running. And not by dogs, in particular. Their argument was that while Thor may be friendly, they don't know that when the beast is rushing at them. They don't feel compelled to assess the nature of the dog before deciding whether to feel panic or joy.

And then the legal argument over leash laws started. At that point we went from a conversation about canines to an emotional dispute involving civil disobedience and individual rights. The leash-law advocates wanted dogs and their owners arrested and thrown in jail. The "run free or die" crowd was just as certain they and their dogs had the inalienable right to live unfettered by leashes or laws.

So where do I stand? On one hand, I know the bond between humans and pets is powerful; running with your pooch - which is free to follow ahead, behind, or next to you - can bring joy to both owner and pet. But there's a lot to be said for keeping dogs leashed on shared-use paths. It isn't just to protect runners - it's also to protect the dogs. I've seen unleashed dogs sprayed with pepper and hit by bicycles because their owners didn't have the sense to keep them safe and leashed.

In the end, we have to be true to the covenant that we have with our pets: that we will do our best to care for them, to protect them, and to love them with integrity. And when you consider that, in return, they give us unconditional love and joy, it's the least that we can do.

Waddle on, friends.

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