Editorial: To Leash or Not to Leash Your Dog?

I had never been one to harbor strong opinions either way about the dog leash debate. Some days I’d be swayed by the hippie or libertarian “let them run free!” crowd, even though I know leash laws are meant to protect people, wildlife, and other dogs from harm. In fact, leashes are required by law in public spaces in Spokane County and the City of Spokane.

My agnosticism towards leashing up man’s best friend abruptly shifted, however, when I experienced first-hand what inevitably happens when dog owners flagrantly disregard leash laws in more crowded public settings. The first incident happened a few years back when I was pinned down by a growling pit bull as I was walking through my own front yard in North Kendall Yards (aka West Central Spokane). Oh, how I wish I had a can of bear spray with me that day.

A year or two more passed, and one day while I was out on a run by the river, I was charged by a sizeable, seemingly free-roaming cur that stopped inches from my leg. I froze and that mut did too, until the apparent owner emerged from the river brush calling happily for their pet. Shaken and fuming, less than five minutes down the trail another off-leash, four-legged menace ran ahead of its owner and lunged in my direction.

I like to think of myself as kind of a pacificist, but by then I was longing for elaborate, pain-inflicting weaponry. Tasers, cross-bows, nunchucks, anything. Meanwhile, the owner casually called in my direction: “He’s friendly!”

Friendly wasn’t the “F” word that growled out of my mouth. And my ire shifted from the apparently affable pup to the delusional, self-absorbed owner who I wanted to punch in the face. Instead I trotted by with fire in my eyes, a racing heart, and a stronger opinion when it comes to leashing dogs.

Leashed dog on a trail in front of its owner.
Hiking in Spokane with the family dog on-leash. // Photo: Shallan Knowles

Since those first close calls with aggressive animals, all within a few blocks of the heavily trafficked Centennial Trail, my family joined the hordes of outdoor enthusiasts in bringing a dog into the family during COVID. She is friendly—95 percent of the time—and her favorite thing in the world is to jump up on any unsuspecting human to express her elation at meeting somebody new, which scares the crap out of anyone with a bit of fear of dogs.

Our dog also either loves other dogs or will randomly attack them for reasons she keeps to herself. So, of course we keep her on a tight leash, even as we frequently encounter other dogs out on popular trails running wild and free with oblivious owners who are in varying degrees of verbal control over their animals.

There really shouldn’t be a dog leash debate in a place like Spokane where there are a ton of people and their pets out walking and biking on public lands, trails, and roads. If you insist on letting your dog run free, make sure it’s out in the boonies away from other people and your buddy stays right by your side.

If doing the right thing isn’t enough of a reason for you to leash up your best friend in urban public places, beware that one day your dog may run up against a much bigger and less-friendly canine rival like that pit bull in my yard, or worse, a more heavily armed and less forgiving human than me.

Derrick Knowles is co-publisher and editor-in-chief.

Find more stories about dogs in the OTO archives.

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