This doesn't mean, however, that I allow her to pester people or other dogs or even break the law, rather, I choose a good location where I can somewhat predict that no other people or dogs will come near us, or if they do, I'll have enough space/time to get Charlie back on her leash before it becomes a problem.
I don't put other people's pets at risk and I try to respect other people's space in case they are fearful of dogs.
This is typically a calculated risk, but a risk nonetheless.
Today was the perfect example of this kind of risk...
Charlie and I were enjoying a beautiful fall day hiking at one of our favorite parks (on-leash). The trails were busy today with horseback riders, mountain bikers and other hikers with dogs.
As we passed more and more people, I realized this hike was becoming more of a tug-o-war game between us: me pulling Charlie away from horses and dogs, her pulling forward to greet the next person or animal to pass us. My shoulder began to hurt from pulling her back and she even choked a few times when the harness pressed up on her esophagus.
I was becoming agitated and the hike was no longer full of fun and frolic for either of us.
Instead of cutting it short and heading home, I decided to take a detour off the busy trail and head off-trail into a forested peninsula where we had never run into another person or dog before and were pretty much guaranteed to have all to ourselves.
Once we were far enough off the main trail and surrounded by water on three sides, I let Charlie off her leash. She bounded forward leaping over logs and headed over to the shore to search out the best stick.
I shuffled my feet through the deep layer of fallen leaves making a <<CRUNCH-SWOOSH>> noise as I went, trying not to trip over rocks or roots. I had to stop occasionally to listen for Charlie to see where she was since she had run far enough ahead to be out of sight.
The third time I stopped my noisy crunch-swoosh-shuffle and looked up, I was surprised to see a beautiful red fox with a big bushy tail heading straight toward me!
It took my brain a minute to register what I was seeing and everything seemed to go into slow-motion.
The fox looked like it was leisurely cruising through the woods and barely even noticed when it passed within ten feet of a human. That's when I realized Charlie was in hot pursuit only 15 feet behind the fox and it looked like she was gaining on it.
As they streaked past me, I snapped out of my reverie and began to shout, "CHARLIE-COME!" over and over. I stood there in disbelief unable to stop her pursuit. Charlie's recall command is shaky at best, and once her prey drive kicks in, it's nearly impossible to get her to stop.
In the past, we've only come across deer or squirrel in the woods and after a short chase, she comes back to me, winded but unharmed.
I had no idea what would happen if she actually caught up with this fox. Images of horrible bite wounds and scratches all over her body raced through my mind.
I called her name loudly over and over as I quickly made my way back the way we had come, trying fruitlessly to catch up to them. I didn't like the high-pitched, panicked quality of my voice as I yelled out. I had a feeling this was going to end badly.
But suddenly, Charlie was trotting back toward me and as she got close I bent down to inspect her. She was breathing heavily, but miraculously was unharmed!
I couldn't believe how lucky we had been. I've read and heard enough tales of dogs tangling with wildlife to know how horribly this could have ended.
Both our hearts were racing and our bodies were pumped full of adrenaline from this brief encounter. That was enough for me; we headed back to the main trail and went home. Our hiking excursion was over.
Charlie curled up on the front seat and eventually dozed off on the drive home. I opened the sun roof for some fresh air, turned off the radio and allowed my mind to replay the scene over and over. It's so weird how the brain works in situations like this and it still feels like it happened to someone else, not me.
This event probably won't stop me from allowing Charlie off-leash, but I will definitely be more careful about where I choose to allow her to run free from now on. I love this little dog and it's up to me to make sure she's safe. Just because I've never seen any dangerous wildlife near a well-used hiking trail doesn't mean that they're not there.
|10/28/12: Two years ago Charlie and I found bear tracks at this park. Yikes!|