If you’ve ever driven through the far borderline of Mount Hope — the main stretch being on Moore Ave., in between Union and Wellington in Kitchener — chances are you’ve considered it a nice neighbourhood. The Mount Hope Cemetery that exists along this stretch is nicely kept. There are kids playing in the front yards and people — so many people — walking dogs.
This is where I live, and this is where I walk my foster dog, Moose, every day.
In the past three years, we’ve had several foster animals come and go from our home. It started with kittens, too young to be away from their mother, then changed to older cats, recovering from surgery or illness. Just last year, we took in our first dog — a near 100 lb mastiff awaiting leg amputation surgery.
These animals are in purgatory — the space between a troubled past and a better future. We’re the pit stop of recovery, a trial period mixed with a day spa, if you will. At our house, we’re trying to learn about their pasts, what they like and don’t like, while being sympathetic to the fact that it’s probably been a while — if ever — since they’ve been in a home that is safe and nurturing.
The same goes for Moose. He’s caught in the in-between. We don’t know where he came from, but our job, as foster parents, is to push him forward and to get him ready for his forever home.
So every day, we go on a walk, where we work on basic commands and we get used to strangers walking past us. It’s Moose’s favourite part of the day, but to be honest sometimes it’s the most anxious part of mine.
Mount Hope, like a lot of other suburban neighbourhoods, has a lot of foot traffic. While Moose loves all people, other dogs make him very nervous. Because we don’t know his past, we don’t know what caused this — whether is was a lack of socialization as a puppy, or perhaps he was even attacked. We don’t and will never know.
When we walk Moose, he is muzzled and we keep him on a short leash. He’s a strong dog with a stern looking face and we are doing everything to make sure our walk is safe. All of that means nothing if another dog is off leash.
I am astounded every day by the amount of people in my neighbourhood who let their dogs run off leash. The cemetery is often the site of unleashed dogs running and weaving between headstones. You’d think the cemetery is a sanctioned dog park. We don’t walk there anymore because every time we do, an unleashed dog surprises us. Thankfully, we’ve managed to avoid any potentially horrible interactions so far but it’s not a risk I’m willing to keep taking.
I know people walk their dogs off leash to allow their dog more freedom. I get it. I fully support off-leash areas with proper signage. I don’t bring Moose into dog parks when there are other dogs, nor would I bring him to an off-leash area. I can control these aspects of Moose’s life. But I can’t control when the off-leash area comes to us.
It doesn’t matter if your dog is good around other dogs. Our dog, we suspect, is not. And a public sphere, with another dog I don’t know, is not a good place to test it. Moose is scheduled to have a controlled dog test soon, where he is to interact with another dog in a safe environment with someone who facilitates this regularly. I don’t need to speed up that process with a dog we don’t know.
Walking your dog off leash is selfish, and honestly — irresponsible pet ownership. Not only will your off leash dog interrupt my training process with Moose and the many other people also trying to train their animals, but your dog could also be in danger. There’s risks of interacting with another dog that isn’t friendly to others, getting hit by a car, running into a person with cynophobia (fear of dogs) or even being kidnapped (it happens). I leash Moose for his own safety, but also for you and your dog. I ask that you extend the same consideration back to us and the rest of your community.
The ironic part is that there is a sanctioned dog park in our neighbourhood (on the corner of Wellington and Weber) that is often unused.
I foster animals to give back to my community and to feed my love of animals. If you own a dog, I’m hoping you love that dog, and by extension, other dogs, too. A simple way for you to help is to just leash your dog in public — it sets dogs with unknown pasts up for success.