First, let’s get clear: I love dogs. Adore them even. If we could get a dog, I’d be heading out to our local greyhound rescue today. When I’m out taking a walk in the neighborhood, I can’t resist a friendly dog (always asking permission first before I pet).
But dogs and my bike? Not exactly a love connection.
Here’s the story. Yesterday I was out running errands on my bike using the bike trail that runs along our property. It’s not just for bikes … you can walk, jog, and maybe even use it for cross-country skiing in the winter. The trail is part of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and links up to the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway terminus in Bedford; it’s one of the most heavily traveled bike trails in the U.S. Bikers actually commute to jobs in Lexington, Arlington, Cambridge and beyond using this trail, and on the weekends, it’s even busier with families on bikes, in-line skates, or on foot.
Anyway, yesterday I’m pedaling along with my groceries (packed in my super-cool Trek Interchange grocery bag) and about 50 yards up the trail I see two women walking three dogs. None of the dogs are leashed. They see me and two of them bolt and run full speed toward my bike. Immediately I slow down because the dogs are heading straight at me. Again, I love dogs, but I can’t really tell if their barking is friendly or if they want to tear my legs off. One of them starts running circles around my bike, which is knocking me off balance, especially since I’ve got the groceries. (You don’t notice a load like that while you’re biking, but it becomes a balance issue when dogs start dodging you.)
So here’s what ticked me off. Rather than call the dogs back when the women saw me coming, one of them yells, “Just hit them! These dogs never behave! Seriously, hit them! Hahahahahaha!” Seriously, she thought it was a joke. I couldn’t believe it. I managed to bike through the scrum of dogs and dumb humans, but as I passed the dumbasses (the human ones, not the dogs), I gave them a black look and said, “Those dogs should be leashed.” Now that I’ve had time to think about it, I wished I’d called out, “Forget the dogs … I’m going to hit you instead.”
I would never hit a dog and, in fact, would probably do myself a great injury by avoiding such a scenario. Those dogs were doing what dogs are wont to do: chase and bark. Second, if I did hit a dog, on purpose or by accident, I’d surely be knocked off my bike by the force and/or loss of control when my balance shifts. I wonder if these dumbasses even know how to ride a bike because one thing an experienced biker knows: biking is often effortless, but the laws of physics become painfully clear when you lose your balance, hit an object or a hole, or have to stop suddenly. Third, it’s not my job to control their dogs. They should have immediately called their dogs at their very least, or had them on a leash to begin with, especially if “these dogs never behave.” And fourth, and most important, it’s against the town laws to let dogs off leash on a bikeway. It’s not only especially dangerous to cyclists, who don’t want to stop to see if a snarling dog is going to chew their leg off, it’s dangerous for the dog. I just don’t understand why anyone who has a dog, and presumably cares about that dog, would let them run amok when they could easily be injured if hit and put themselves at liability should the cyclist get injured.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time I’ve run across clueless dog owners on the bike path. A couple weeks ago another woman was letting her big shaggy dog run ahead off leash. He came barking and lumbering up to my son on his bike and almost knocked him to the ground. I gave her an earful and she called me a bitch under her breath. Whatever. My son gets hurt by your dog, lady, and I have a lawyer whose bite will be worse than mine. Luckily, most of the dogs and dog owners we meet on the path are perfectly wonderful. The dogs are leashed and well behaved. Owners with dogs who are a little fidgety will hold them close while we pass, and I’m always sure to thank them. Occasionally we’ll see someone with a dog off leash, but they’ll quickly reign in the dog and hold them until we pass. While they’re technically breaking the rules, I at least give them credit for controlling their pets when they see a cyclist coming.
Last night O and I were wondering what we could do to get dog owners to take better care of their dogs on the path. He suggested we start a new website, sort of like Dogshaming, but call it Ownershaming, where people can post cell phone videos of stupid dog owners. For right now, though … next time I see those women I’m going to point them to my blog.
And if you two are reading this: Take better care of your dogs. They weren’t misbehaving … you were.