Rosa Meehan: Wayward dogs can make our trails dangerous

Rosa Meehan

Danger lurks on Anchorage trails -- and it's not the wildlife. Many trail users have stories of challenges or harassment by loose dogs and, while scary, most do not end in injuries. Some do not end well, however, as evidenced by a truly frightening encounter by Campbell Airstrip.

Dogs attacked a couple of horses, which resulted in horses bolting; one horse was chased all the way back to the barn and both horses were bitten on their legs and noses. One rider required hospital care after being thrown from her galloping horse. Usually a horse can stand off a barking dog, but not one that is persistently attacking and biting.

All of this occurred in Campbell Tract, a 730-acre area managed by BLM. The multi-use trails provide year-round recreational opportunities for an estimated 80,000 users each year. This area clearly requires that different groups of users pay attention to each other. Certain activities are specifically prohibited to protect the area and minimize user conflicts. Notably, one requirement is for dogs in Campbell Tract to be physically restrained (on a leash). This encounter should never have happened.

Dog owners can be passionate about their pets, and dogs are often considered family members. Canine companionship cannot be overrated and neither can the need for good manners. Not everyone is a "dog person" and no one should be subjected to irresponsible behavior by dogs and their owners.

Many resources are available that identify expectations and requirements for dogs in public places; see Title 17 in the Anchorage Municipal Code for legal requirements and the municipality's website for requirements in understandable language, including guidance on how to respond to an aggressive dog. Several dog training resources are also available to help with basic obedience and even with developing a "Canine Good Citizen."

If all trail users are respectful and abide by the rules, we can hope this type of encounter, in which the bad behavior of a loose dog results in an injury, won't happen again. We are so fortunate to have several wonderful trail systems to enjoy and share. A lovely sunny evening brings people out to enjoy the trails, whether by bicycle, on foot or on horseback, and people pushing strollers can be found on all trails. Lots of users have their dogs with them as well and thankfully most are under control and well-mannered. It only takes one bad incident, however, to underscore why it is a municipal requirement that animals be under control.

Dog owners owe it to their dogs and the community at large to understand and follow legal requirements. Animal control can't be everywhere and it is incumbent on all of us to be responsible about our pets and to remind others when needed.

Rosa Meehan is a member of the Anchorage Daily News guest editorial board, a horsewoman and environmental consultant.

Rosa Meehan