Outdoors/Adventure

Alaskans, get a grip on your dogs

And now, presenting my most unpopular column of all time.

Call it a bad case of the grumpy Januarys or just pent-up frustration, but I’m sitting down, doing the intertwined finger stretch, and finally typing out my outlier’s perspective. If you don’t care to know my opinion about Alaskans and our dogs, I suggest you stop reading here.

Here’s my disclaimer: I’m allergic to dogs — and cats, and horses, and basically anything non-human with any kind of dander. I have been since I was very young. What does this mean? Well, it means that I don’t actually benefit from the perks of interacting with animals. I can appreciate that they’re cute, but then again even when I write that, I feel like Jeff Bezos pretending he likes music — did you know he doesn’t?! — like I’m going along to get along, because otherwise all of humanity might think I’m some kind of dog-hating monster.

I don’t mind dogs, inherently. But since I can’t pet, cuddle, or otherwise be near them without getting asthma, I don’t have a particular affinity for them, either.

I get few of the benefits of being around dogs, and yet, boy am I around them a lot.

What I have observed about many Alaskans and our relationship with their dogs:

Many have little to no vocal command over their dogs.

Many treat their dogs like their children — I don’t actually think this isn’t inherently bad because to each their own, but it gets obnoxious when combined with other factors because it can blind owners to their dog’s behavior.

Many let their dogs crap wherever, and don’t bother picking up after them.

Many let their dogs wander off property, even when that means into others’ yards or into the street.

Many let their dogs bark, and bark, and bark and bark.

My relationship to dogs is going from neutral to soured. Or, maybe more accurately — it’s not the dogs themselves. It’s us, Alaskans. Maybe these are the outlier dog owners I’m pointing out, but boy, from my experience living in a neighborhood, frequenting trails, and simply walking or driving down the street, I think this is more the norm than the exception.

Recent experiences with dogs and owners include:

Getting growled and lunged at by an off-leash dog on a popular local trail, with the owner right behind the dog making half-hearted attempts to grab the leash but mostly just yelling down-trail “Don’t worry, he’s friendly!” I stopped until he had a firm handle on the dog, who continued to lunge and growl as I passed.

Driving down the Old Glenn Highway in the morning dark, only to see what looked like a yellow Lab appear suddenly right in front of my headlight, zig-zagging his way through the middle of the road. I swerved and missed it narrowly, then watched another car in the opposite lane that I had — thank God — not hit also swerve, followed by a school bus.

Dog crap lining the trail up Lazy Mountain. Nothing like a good snow melt to reveal a winter’s worth of owners not picking up after their dog, even when it poops right next to or even on the trail. The fragrance come breakup is even better. This is also an issue with well-trafficked backpacking and camping routes.

Stranger dogs running up to and jumping on or playfully biting at my mittens — again, cue the owners’ futile call for their untrained dogs, also insisting “she’s friendly!”

Again, the barking. There’s one particular neighbors’ set of dogs that are the only reason I’ve considered leaving what is otherwise a great neighborhood. The incessant barking — my husband and I have a fan that we turn on even in the middle of the winter for white noise when we are trying to sleep. Yes, we’ve tried talking to them about it.

Finally, getting chased by dogs when I’m out running. Nothing to make my heart rate go up a little more than intended like a good nipping at my heels. I do sincerely worry about what would happen if I got bit, having my allergy. Likely some pretty good swelling, but I really would prefer to not find out.

My plea, like the old and curmudgeonly person I fear I am becoming when it comes to dogs, is an old refrain that’s been echoed in many a newspaper op-ed section: the common sense of the golden rule when it comes to treating others as you’d like to be treated; and tied to that the courtesy of thinking about shared spaces. We’re so lucky in Alaska to have so much wide-openness, but we still inhabit shared neighborhoods and enjoy shared resources like trails, sidewalks, and campsites.

Please train your dog. Please leash your dog if it’s not trained — and, again, the futile calling of the dog’s name as it jumps up on a stranger on skis, or lunges at other dogs? That’s not working. Please pick up after your dog. Please don’t let your dog outside to bark constantly, unless you don’t have close neighbors. Please figure out a way to keep your dog on your property, for their safety as well as mine.

Alli Harvey

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.

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