Saturday, May 06, 2006

City Dogs, City Dog Bylaws

Toronto's is currently trying to sort out its policy towards creating "leash free zones" where dog-owners can let their animals run loose and get some much needed exercise. Of course, many home-owners don't want to see untethered dogs eating their kids, so there is inevitably NIMBY-style opposition. But I think this attitude contributes to the very problem it is intended to prevent. Often, city dogs bite because they haven't learned to behave around anyone besides their owners. Leash-bound and house-bound as they usually are, there are relatively few opportunities for a city dog to pick up the necessary discipline.

Now, in contrast, when I was a kid out on the Left Coast, we lived in a semi-rural sub-division off the TransCanada. There was one road to the highway on our side of the creek, and one on the other. To the North side were cliffs, and South out beyond Phillips Road stood a series of foothills.It was a nice little enclave.

Everyone in the Subby owned a dog, and I swear 80 per cent of the dogs (I knew a couple dozen by name) never knew a leash.

In those days I had a paper route. I had fixed up an old golf cart to hold my Times-Colonist paper bag, and three days a week after school I would wheel it around the Subby delivering flyers. After our own dog died, a beautiful, full-sized poodle named Pepsi, I would pack around fistfuls of his dog-biscuits and make friends with the other neighborhood canines on our side of the creek. There was Duke the black lab, Ferguson the chihuahua, Caeser the Great Dane (who became a house dog after he was struck by a car and had a pin implanted in his right foreleg), and Sebastian the Basset Hound.

Of them Sebastian was probably my favorite, in that he never seemed to move unless he was eating. I'd bring a special treat for him if my mom had a couple of boiled wieners left over from lunch. He'd hear me coming, get up and sit patiently next to my golf cart while I dropped my flyers through the slot to his house. Then I'd take a wiener out of plastic wrap and WHAM! it would be gone in a gulp. You could barely see him move, and he nearly ate my hand on one or two occasions. Than Sebastian would lie back down on the gravel at the end of the walkway, or maybe right out in the middle of Belmont Street, and dream away the rest of the afternoon.

(Unfortunately, it was this habit that eventually got poor Sebastian killed. Some stranger that didn't understand Subby driving etiquette didn't notice him one night and ran him over. That was actually the most common demise among our local dog population. Pepsi went the same way: a black poodle run down at night by a drunk kid who was driving without headlights. Freedom has its price for a dog, I guess.)

By the time I was ready to cross the bridge and deliver flyers to the other side of the Subby, I was usually the center of a small pack, as dogs from the North side of the creek decided to accompany me and pay a visit to their canine brothers and sisters on the South side. And I'd always save a few biscuits for this part of my route, where I would bring snacks to Denim the Doberman, and Max the German Sheppard.

But I guess the point is, none of these were small dogs, and several (Max and Denim) would be on Toronto's "dangerous canine" list. However, nobody in the Subby worried about their kids. The dogs were a part of the neighborhood. Mom would call Sebastian's owners if he had rambled over to sleep on our front porch, so they wouldn't get worried. Mrs. Arsenault next door used to yell for Pepsi when her husband got drunk and amorous and chased her around the picnic table in their back yard. Pepsi would leap the fence and settle Mr. Arsenault down with a few snarls. And as a kid, I probably knew more dogs than adults.

City dogs, though, just don't have the same advantages, and leash-free zones are needed not just for their physical health but so that they have at least a few opportunities to become mentally mature, so they can learn how to behave in public. They're needed to help the dogs become better citizens, in other words.

That's why we should create as many of them as we can.

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