This monthly column is a space for simple, useful directions, tips and information to help you keep your animals safe and happy.
I spend a fair amount of time in dog parks in and around Montreal. They are an important and joy-filled part of many dogs’ days, and often the only opportunity for them to run free and socialize. While there, it is crucial to keep a few things on our radar.
A few absolute don’ts:
Don’t bring a pregnant or in heat female to the park. You are asking for trouble.
Don’t keep your dog on the leash in an off-leash park. Dogs are often more insecure on leash because they do not have the freedom of full movement. Plus leashes get tangled and can result in injuries for both human and animal.
Don’t bring your dog from home to car to park. Exercise her first for a bit, so she can work off some energy. This will minimize potential issues such as rude greeting skills and over-excitement which can lead to aggression between her and other pups.
I see a lot of parents fully engaged with their dogs while in the dog park. This is key. You need to be on top of the poop drop. You need to watch for potential aggression in your own or other dogs. If your dog is not a great “joiner” you need to encourage play with ball or stick.
I see too many parents sitting 200 feet away on a picnic table, ears stuffed with head phones, noses in their cells, while their dogs either sit glumly near by, uncertain how to engage with others, or are terrorizing other dogs and infuriating their guardians, with the parent oblivious, uncaring or both. If this is you, give your head a firm shake. You are a parent now. Act like one and get involved.
When I witness abuse in a park it takes all of my self-control not to leap on the offender, take his dog from him by force, push him down in the dirt, and bring his dog home to live with me, surrounded by love and safety. Alas, this choice would merely result in an irate owner and me being charged with assault. The dog remains in jeopardy.
Find out your local number for reporting animal abuse, add it to your cell phone contact list, and call it in right there in the park. Find out the dog’s name and breed. Ask others who witnessed the abuse for any information, most importantly, if the offender has regular times he comes to the park. Do all of this quietly, because if the offender sees any sign he may be in trouble, he will leave the park and never return, and once again the dog loses.
You can also discretely follow the offender home, write down his address and then call the animal abuse hotline. This requires a certain amount of stealth, as he can’t know he is being followed. This of course works best if you are both walking. Cars are more difficult, but not impossible. I have done both, and the animals have been removed from danger, with the idiot owner none the wiser as to who turned him in.
If what you have witnessed is not straight up abuse, but more of a blurred infraction, an option is to quietly approach the parent and suggest other options. I often witness yanking of leashes that snap the dog’s neck back or to the side. Their throats are sensitive and this hurts, confuses and upsets them. There are better and kinder options. For example, if you would like your dog to sit, hold your arm out with palm down, high enough that the dog needs to look right up. From there it is easier to encourage them to sit as their haunches are heading downward anyway.
I make suggestions quite often, and have learned the hard way that only smiling warmth and sensitivity garner results. Not always, but often enough to make it worth my- and your- time.
If you are reading this and thinking “This is none of my business” or “I am not comfortable doing this” consider snapping out of it. Animal care is everyone’s responsibility and the business of all of us. Grab your courage and your heart and do what needs to be done with the requisite amount of whatever is required, be it knowledge, tact or stealth. Animals need champions.
Samantha Bennett lives and writes in Montreal and is the owner of the pet care business Soins Mille Pattes. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org