Jana worked in animal welfare with abused and unwanted pets. She loves sharing her hands-on experience regarding domestic and wild critters.
Alice in Dangerland
The other day I took my Alice for a walk. She's an elderly, but lively, Bull Terrier cross. The route we took was new and it was our first outing in months. We returned in one piece, rejuvenated by our morning exploration near a lagoon with wild flamingos. However, I couldn't help but notice danger in the wings—to me, as a walker and lone person, as well as to Alice.
Tip 1: Make Sure Your Walking Gear Is in Working Order
I purchased a reflective collar a while back. There were never any plans of walking at night (that's just foolish). I bought it because the collar's pretty pink suited Alice's red coat. I should've shopped with safety in mind. Once we were out the gate, the canine got very exited. She adores walks but between flu, work and laziness (ahem), her owner let months slip by without a stroll. So, Alice strained forward while I struggled to close the ancient gate behind us. The moment she felt the leash tighten, Alice bucked. Thankfully, only once and when I looked, that single buck had pulled the collar from her neck. It now ringed her cheeks like some face-jewelry statement. The horrifying part was that a busy road streaks past our home. Had she gotten loose and bolted, a bad or even fatal accident could have followed. Not wanting to take any chances, I removed the collar and made one from the leash, a fail safe loop that would prevent her from slipping loose.
The same counts for harnesses that are a bad fit or a leash held incorrectly. A sudden jerk can pull the leash from your hand. If the dog is celebrating its new freedom at full speed, things can get scary real quickly.
Tip 2: Be Mindful of Traffic
Remember this old road safety rule: look left, right, then left again? Well, it matters when you are walking your dog! We crossed not only the street in front of my house but two others to reach the lagoon. I chose the morning because generally, it should have been quieter. Most people are at work but I forgot it was a long weekend and cars were frequent. One pickup truck had dogs on the back and they went nuts when they saw Alice. I braced to grab her should they jump off. Once they were gone, I looked to see if she was scared (helicopter owner), and found she had better things to do than worry about a pack baying for her blood. The dog was head-deep inside some bush. Which brings us to the next point.
Trouble With Trash
Tip 3: Be Careful When Walking in Grassy or Forested Areas
During the entire walk and the closer we got to the lagoon, we encountered grass. Not the manicured green stuff that grows in the garden. I'm talking a more wild variety that grows up to two hands high. Of course, Alice insisted on browsing the bushy areas. She might have enjoyed picking up new smells but in reality, such clumps are tick motels. Tick bite fever is a serious disease not preventable by vaccination. Most flea and tick products cannot protect a pet a hundred percent either. At home, Alice got a thorough tick check.
Tall and thick vegetation can also hide other things that could be detrimental to your dog. I noticed pieces of glass, broken ceramics, wire and food wrappers. For some reason, there was also a sole without a shoe and a lens without a camera. Other dangers could include snakes, rodents, needles and rusted objects.
Tip 4: Make Sure Your Dog Is Vaccinated
A sick dog often sheds infectious traces wherever they go. Two of the deadliest bugs that can survive for some time without a new host is parvo and canine distemper. The first is particularly lethal to young dogs and the second has no cure. Survivors are often handicapped because of brain damage. Luckily, both diseases can be prevented by vaccinations. Not every owner is a fan of vaccinating their pets but if you want to walk where there are other dogs, such as a park or beach, it's a necessity. A few years ago, a friend walked her dog on the beach and it caught distemper. Before she realized what was going on, the disease had spread and killed both the dog and their new puppy.
Avoid Exploring Lonely Areas
Tip 5: Be Mindful of Your Surroundings
We made it to the lagoon. Alice wanted to go down the slope towards the water and since I wanted a better look at the flamingos, I allowed the dog her wish. Don't worry, the flamingos were far out and I didn't bother them. The slope was short but hairy. Grass hid its contours, which is just the perfect way to sprain an ankle or step on a beer bottle. Luckily, every ankle involved made it to the rocky “beach”. That's because I carefully monitored our progress throughout the unknown pathway.
Then I made a deadly mistake. I was so enthralled by the pink flock that by the time I snapped out of it, we were in a lonely place. Sure, some bad characters might avoid a dog with obvious strength such as Alice, but what about three or four people? We got back up the slope and urban area real quick.
This was perhaps the thing that hit home the hardest. We enjoy walking our dogs. Our dogs enjoy being walked. But criminals enjoy things too and one of them must be lone walkers in isolated places. Don't make my mistake of being lulled by a beautiful nature scene most people will never get to see up close. Always stay alert. Watch who is approaching and catch them as far away as possible. This allows ample opportunity to get away, if necessary.
Tip 6: Have a Plan for Possible Encounters With Aggressive Dogs
Alice ignored the rowdy pack that performed a drive by in the back of a pickup. But not even her legendary tolerance with other dogs could ignore the creature that charged us. While on our way back home, somebody's gate was now open and this thing bounced out. It resembled a small but angry mop. For a few seconds, both Alice and I were transfixed but then I dragged my dog away, knowing that if there was an altercation, her breed was bound to get the blame. Never mind that she was on a leash and the other side of the road. The righteous mop trotted back into its yard, but it got me thinking. What if it was a big dog that didn't halt its attack past the front gate? What if it were three? Sure, picking up Alice is a choice but it won't solve anything when dogs are determined to fight.
The only advice is to stay alert on what's happening a good distance ahead of you. It may not be new terrain but a street situation can change quickly. Gates open, kids appear and want to pet your dog, a cat runs past, a drunk driver skids the corner, another dog walker can arrive but with an off-leash dog that doesn't know the meaning of manners. Unfortunately, a lot of people allow dogs to run ahead when they walk next to a road and worse, owners who think it's funny when their dogs molest another person's pet.
Enjoy the Experience
Don't let possible dangers spoil or stop walks altogether. Vigilance and a leashed dog keeps most dangers at bay. As a responsible owner it's important to stay mindful, but don't forget to frolic with your four-legged friend and to savour the sights.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2018 Jana Louise Smit