The problem is that because dog friendly hikes involving water are so scarce, most websites promote only a select few. And those select few are the ones that everyone and their mother (and their dog) are going to. Vancouver was a busy hiking area. You felt more secluded in the Mall of America than you did on any of the most known hiking trails in the area. Certainly nothing compares to that—this is the US where few people get off their couch, let alone make it to the forest’s edge and take one step forward.
I have to admit that Tucker is better with off leash dogs than I am. Probably the first thing he says to an unruly dog rushing up to him rudely is, “Please ignore the human behind me. She’s a freak. I’m normal though. You wanna be friends?”
I’m the one who sees a young dog bounding toward us with no human in sight and yell like a maniac, “Dog! Dog!” in the hopes some human ears hear me and can call back their dog. In no single incident has any person been able to call their dog back on the first try. Tucker is a genuinely friendly kid, but he doesn’t like all dogs—especially when they don’t adhere to socially acceptable greetings and instead plow head into him or stalk him from afar, edging closer as if they’re going to pounce. My priority is keeping Tucker safe, and that means never putting him in a position in which he could make a bad decision.
Our relationships with dogs have evolved over the decades as much as our relationships with children have. No longer do we open the front door and kick the kids out, telling them not to come home until dinner. And no longer do we let the dog out to go find the kid when he doesn’t return home at the appointed time.
Dogs used to be off leash all the time. As were kids. But we’ve realized the dangers out there in the world and have become much more protective. Maybe the world has gotten a bit more dangerous too. If Tucker and I made our home on a farm in Nebraska where the nearest neighbor was a mile away, I’m sure he’d be off leash all the time. He’d grow up that way—around farm animals and going to work in the fields.
But Tucker is a city/suburb dog. We walk with a leash on sidewalks. He sits on patios at coffee houses. He does not run amuck in the woods. I am jealous of dogs who can. I am envious of people who have the confidence that their dog will not be injured and will be smart enough not to attack a bear or to chase a rabbit so far that they can’t find their way back.
Mostly though, I want to make sure Tucker has only good experiences with other dogs—and that everyone who comes in contact with Tucker comes away with a good experience with a pit bull. So he stays on leash, and I don’t mind meeting other dogs on leash when Tucker and the other dog seem into it. But I like to avoid an unleashed dog running up to Tucker with no human to chaperone.
So, although Bishop’s Lodge Trail is a delightfully shady walk through the woods, criss-crossing private property with signs such as “You’re on private property—please be respectful and keep your dog leashed” and “Dogs must be on leash,” Tucker and I were the only ones who took notice. The first woman was kind about it. She said her dog just wanted to play, but the hardness of the little white dog’s unrelenting stare made me believe otherwise. Her other dog didn’t even notice us. She leashed up on the narrow trail while Tucker and I perched up the in bushes so they could pass. She warned me there would be lots of dogs, most off leash.
She was right.
By the time we reached the actual trail (the shady portion was just the path to get to the trail), we encountered even more off-leash dogs, less respectful owners, and as the treeline and river veered away from the trail, it became irritatingly hot. I decided to turn around and check out a side trail that Tucker had discovered near the water’s edge in the hopes of salvaging the hike. I was paranoid about off leash dogs, angry with the people who didn’t care and allowed their dogs to roam freely, and I was cranky from the heat.
Tucker and I followed the offshoot of the trail, climbing more than walking, only to have two mutts come running up behind us. I again yelled, "Dog! Dog!” which, along with Tucker’s “Sorry, my mom’s crazy,” warning he spoke in shy tail wags, they backed away a little. The trail was only a foot wide. We had nowhere to go. I scurried up the incline on all fours, Tucker in tow as their person came around the bend. She didn’t leash up but kept on walking by.
It was then that I admitted utter defeat. On the verge of tears, unable to just have a pleasant walk in the woods with my dog, we descended the incline and headed back to the shady path.
At the intersection where the shaded path lead right and a driveway-looking area was straight ahead, I headed for the driveway area to stop and get Tucker some water. The intersection was large, and I figured this way we’d be out of the way should others come down the trail and head right onto the shady path.
As soon as my backpack was off and Tucker’s bowl in hand, a young yellow lab wearing a shock collar (a discussion for another time) came bounding down the trail, and upon seeing us, picked up speed. His people were a little way aways and I held up my one free hand and yelled, “Stop! Please! Stay back!” Three times calling their dog, the dog finally returned (I guess he was immune to the shock collar), and they leashed up. As soon as they did, they headed straight for us. I still had the backpack on the ground, bowl in hand, and needed to keep Tucker from bolting on the leash.
“Oh, do you live here?” I asked the older gentleman who was heading straight for us.
He mumbled something and I quickly and awkwardly gathered my things and tried to get Tucker not to try to greet the yellow lab puppy and stumbled over the the shady path.
I continued packing up, mumbling to myself (mostly expletives), and then Tucker and I headed into the security of the trees.
Half way down, something caught my eye behind me. I turned there was the yellow lab off leash, bounding down the path! I didn’t want Tucker to see, for fear he’d stop and try to play, or if the pup was un-neutered, Tuck might not like him so much, and the two humans were nowhere to be seen. I kept us one bend away to stay out of sight.
We rushed down the path, me being even more pissed off than I had to begin with, saddened and angry that I couldn’t enjoy the wilderness because of the irresponsibility and rudeness of other people.
When Tucker and I reached the truck, down the dirt road from the path, I saw the yellow lab again, this time on leash with the two people. Why they tormented us, I don’t now.
I left Bishop’s Lodge with the defeated feeling that perhaps that would be the end of hiking for Tucker and me in Santa Fe. It was hot, now that it was summer, and the prevalence of off leash dogs on on-leash trails makes for a stressful and unpleasant experience for me.
If only people could be so easily trained as dogs.