I used to be nice when I encountered people as their off-leash dogs accompanied them or explored the area adjacent to the foothills trails.
“Did you know there might be rattlesnakes in the scrub along the trails?” I might suggest. They would shrug me off.
“Do you know how to recognize New Mexico’s poison ivy?” I might inquire when hiking at lower elevations in the mountains. “I would hate for your dog to get it on its fur.” This might get their attention.
I have stopped being nice. A few years ago my friend, Linda Goble, dubbed me “the thug” when I spoke out when someone was behaving badly – and the title has stuck.
This week I was leading 20 birders along a trail in the foothills. We moved over to let a woman by. When she was out in front of me, she started calling to her dog.
“He must not know how to find his way out of the crowd,” she laughed. Pretty soon a small dog trotted towards her.
“Your dog needs to be on a leash,” I commented authoritatively.
“I know,” she responded. “However, we walk here every day, so we feel like the area is ours.”
“This is public land and it’s the law,” I retorted.
She hooked the leash onto the dog’s collar and continued up the trail.
A short time later, we moved over to make way for two other women and a small dog lagging behind them – also off leash.
“Your dog needs to be on leash,” I told her.
“We didn’t bring it,” she responded and walked on ignoring me.
This is not the first time I have written about this topic. About this time last year, I wrote a piece – Keeping Birds Safe – Three Easy Steps.
While the signs at the trailhead state the Albuquerque Open Space rules,
most people don’t bother to read the signs – or think the rules don’t pertain to them and their best friend.
I think the first woman’s attitude reflects so many who bring their dogs to the Open Space or forest lands. It’s an attitude of entitlement that their dog should not have to follow the ‘silly’ rules of people. Those that live near open space view the area as their ‘off-leash’ dog park.
Until about five years ago, I had a dog much of my adult life. Jasper, my most recent canine companion, and I enjoyed walking on trails in the foothills for the 10+ years of his life; however, he was always on leash. I don’t have a picture of him hiking with me, since it was impossible to do while he was leashed.
As our birding group circled back around, we noticed little construction flags dotted along the trail. I stooped to read the comment written on one of the flags.
“I remember seeing something about flags near the trailhead,” I commented.
“It marks the location where dog poop was picked up,” a member of our group stated. “I read the sign while I was waiting for the rest of the birders to assemble.”
After our walk, I went to look at the sign myself.
It was then that I realized how pervasive the flags were, and walked back to look at them more closely.
Just five feet from the trailhead signs was some dried poop in the middle of the trail.
In another area there was a knotted bag by the trail. The owner had cleaned up after the dog, but left the bag beside the trail.
Besides the flags and their explanatory sign, the Open Space has tried chiding visitors with signs like this:
Clearly small signs, humor, and flags don’t make a difference.
The Petroglyph National Monument has recently installed a large in-your-face sign at the Rinconada Canyon trailhead entrance – and another at the far end of the loop.
It seems to be working. On a recent Saturday I hiked the trail and was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t encounter any dogs off leash. In fact, I don’t recall seeing anyone with a dog at all.
As I searched online for similar stories, I learned that the struggle between on-leash and off-leash dog owners across the country – and as far away as New Zealand.
From my biased perspective that is concerned about ground-nesting birds, my wish is for dog owners to follow the rules. Take your dog with you as you hike in the foothills, but keep it on its leash – and pick up and dispose of your dog’s waste.