This week our world was altered slightly. It became a bit less bright and sparkly...a little less carefree.
A friend of mine let her dog out into the yard as she had a million times before and he disappeared. Did he take off after a cat or a bear? Was he hit by a car? All we know for sure is that he disappeared that night and was found a week later close to home in a brushy area beyond a ditch. He was dead.
Suddenly the little routines we take for granted became suspect. Suddenly the small chances we take with our dog's safety became big chances. Some people wanted to blame my friend. Some people wanted to blame the dog. Some people wanted to blame whomever may have hit him. But most of us knew that there was no one to blame. It simply was a twist of fate. It could've happened to any of us. It CAN happen to any of us.
I hike with my dogs off leash every week. They are well trained to come when called. They are not let loose anywhere near roads. They are hiked in areas familiar to them. They've never taken off for more than 2 or 3 minutes out of my sight. But still...
I take a chance. I am well aware that it is a chance. I do not take it thoughtlessly. I have trained for the distractions of freedom. My dogs are well identified with flat collar tags. But, still...
I could make the choice to never, ever let my dogs off leash outside of a fence. I do make that choice with some of my dogs - my Beagles over the years... my current tiny dogs...my senile old man, Pogo... they stay on leash. But I choose to give my other dogs the freedom to hunt for birds, swim in the pond and race through the fields. It is joyful to watch them smile their big doggie smiles after a run.
I am not suggesting that it is OK to be cavalier with your dog's safety. If you haven't put in the training time for off leash freedom...if you are in an area with traffic or environmental hazards...if your dog is old , too young, too small, too adventurous, too timid etc. PLEASE keep him on leash!
But if you choose to allow your dog the freedom to be a dog in this paradise we call Vermont, please do it knowing that your friend can be snatched from you at any moment. Just as your human loved ones can by taken by car accidents, random acts of violence or illness. Fate is a bitch.
To counteract this lack of control over my world, I try to make sure that if any of my dogs were to be taken from me tomorrow I could rest easier knowing that every moment we shared was good. That I never purposefully hurt them or treated them unfairly. That I cared for them deeply both physically and emotionally. That I trained them with humane methods that embraced individuality and their intrinsic sense of humor.
My friend's dog is gone...too soon...tragically. But he lived a life in which he was truly cherished and treated with respect by his people. He was loved. He will be missed and his loss will be a constant reminder to me to do right by my dog...today, not tomorrow or next week when I have more time...
Signing off to take a hike with my dogs The pond is waiting and oh how they love the pond!
- my dogs, my world
- My name is Lesli Hyland. In my forty seven years on this earth, my home and my heart have been graced with the company of twenty dogs. Many came to me as seniors. All of them taught me something and helped determine the course of my life. I am a dog trainer because of them. I met my friends because of them. My husband and I are are forever bonded by our mutual connection to them. As a dog trainer I have access to other people's dogs and I am allowed to share in their unique relationships. The dogs make me a better person by forcing me to closely examine my motivation, my actions and my choices. Everything I do affects their behavior, safety and happiness. It is an awesome responsibility. The dogs keep me honest.