Listen, we need to have a bit of a “grown-up” talk here. Unthinking & rude pet owners are giving the rest of us a bad name. If they keep it up, the pet access rules that have opened up a bit over the last few years, are going to become strict again. And hey, they asked for it.
A few days ago we were out hiking at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge about an hour drive north-west of Baraboo. We had actually just spotted the first endangered Whooping Cranes of the season out on the marsh, when a pickup truck with 2 very excited, barking dogs pulled up. We knew we’d have to hurry to get a good view of the cranes before the jazzed pups got anywhere near the viewing area. That’s life though. We have 3 dogs ourselves and we realize that wildlife and dogs don’t mix well. When we take our dogs hiking on public trails we don’t expect to see much in the way of wildlife. We also realize that when others have their pets on the trails, it’s not a “wildlife” viewing day. It’s O.K. We all share the trails.
Well, the folks with the barking dogs went the other way so we had plenty of crane watching time before we turned back to the trail and began to walk the reverse direction along the trail. Suddenly we saw a deer prance out of a stand of small Tamarack trees and stop. Cool, right!? It’s ears perked up, and it made a nervous bounce. Then another. We looked to where the deer was looking and saw our other two hikers on the trail in the distance and coming our direction. Then, in a flash, the deer began to bound back toward the trees. Coming fast from the trail was a black blur. The dog walkers, also didn’t leash their dogs! Suddenly it was madness.
The deer and the dog had disappeared into the woods in a flash. The dog owners were yelling “Come! Come Here!” “Bad Dog!!” and the like. Because of course, if you yell “Come!” to a dog chasing a deer 150 yards away from you, it will just come prancing back. Well, we stood watching and they stood and yelled… and yelled.. Finally, in its own good time the dog came back. Then of course, they scold and yell at the dog some more (Which by the way is no reward to your dog for coming back!), before walking toward us.
When the hikers approached us they made their dogs sit and said “Hi” as if the last 10 minutes hadn’t occurred. Their 2 dogs were still not on leashes. (But laws, shmaws right?) We also noticed both dogs were wearing shock collars. Yep, those worked…
Listen, I know pet owners hate hearing these stories and often want to argue to defend other dog lovers. Let me be clear; We are pet owners as well, we love our pets and we love taking them out into the state parks and wildlife areas. But these folks have no excuse for having their pets off leash in a wildlife sanctuary. No matter what they thought they knew, they had no control over their pets. And frankly NO pet owner can guarantee they can control an off-leash dog against all temptation. If a dog chases wildlife, or worse injures or kills an animal in a park, that pet owners deserves the response they get.
Folks, especially other pet owners like us, when we see dogs off-lease on the trails we need to call it out. If we see people leaving bags of dog doo hanging from trees, or sitting on benches, we need to report them to the rangers. (At Devil’s Lake call 608-356-8301.) Because if we don’t, sooner or later pets will be banned from the parks. And really that would suck for all of us. After all, if we are going to co-exist with each other and nature, we need to show some respect all around.