In The Pipeline: Keep Spot, Fido and Marilyn safe — on a leash

I started walking our dog on the pretty Brightwater trail near the Bolsa Chica wetlands recently, after remembering that leashed dogs were allowed there.

The trail provides a beautiful view of the ocean and an interesting proximity to the fenced-off protected areas. Marilyn, our dog, seemed to thoroughly enjoy the walks there, aroused by the many unique scents and telltale wisps of the occasional squirrel or lizard.

What she didn't seem to appreciate were the frequent off-leash dogs that would bound over to her while their owners walked ahead.

See, after getting attacked at a local park a few years ago by an unleashed dog, she gets tense when she's the only one on a leash. And I don't blame her.

But I fully blame the growing number of dog owners in Huntington Beach who blatantly violate leash laws, cleanup laws and, it would seem, pretty much every other law that dog owners are supposed to follow. Is it just me, or do any of you notice the trend?

At Brightwater recently, I've directed people, when their leashless dogs approach mine, to keep them away — while watching a scrap develop. Then I'll ask if they are aware of the leash law.

An elderly couple with a black Labrador snapped back hard at me last week when I posed the question.

"Can I see your deed to this property?" the man snarled, "cause if you don't own this land, it's none of your business."

His wife's bark was even worse. When I asked if they had their own special rules, she said, while holding a batch of her grey hair, "See this? This grey hair is our rule. We've been walking here since before you were born. And we'll keep doing it."

It made me wonder if, in their eyes, every other rule enacted during their lifetime was null and void.

The next evening, a gorgeous magenta sunset was interrupted by a woman allowing two large golden retrievers to romp free. One went to the bathroom, conveniently, while the owner was about 50 feet ahead. I pointed it out to her as she doubled back, while asking if she knew about the leash law. Her response? "Get over it, dude." This on a trail that has become like a disgusting, unsanitary minefield, thanks to owners like her.

Why don't they just go to Dog Beach, where off-leash is allowed?

Another guy, the next day, in response to my leash-law question, said, "Can I see your badge? And if you don't have one, don't bother talking to me." Please note that I've cleaned that one up for family reading.

A woman that same day, in response to my dog getting tense and barking when her large, off-leash dog approached: "Maybe you should think about keeping your dog at home." How's that for logic?

I could easily cite another dozen recent examples of rude, combative, arrogant dog owners who seem as if they could use some obedience classes and distemper shots of their own. In parks, on trails and at schools, packs of them are roaming, willfully breaking laws and getting in the faces of people who dare point it out.

Ryan Drabek, director at OC Animal Care, explained why the existing laws are so important in the first place.

"People think they're doing their dogs a favor by letting them off-leash," he said. "But it does the exact opposite — it jeopardizes them, and also the owner, in many ways. No matter how well behaved a dog might be, animals are unpredictable.

"From my own personal experience, I cannot even count the number of times I've gone out on an animal-bite incident only to hear the owner say, 'My dog's never done that before. It's the most docile animal in the world.'

"And when you don't have control over your dog, then you're in no position to take charge, should that animal snap or should another unexpected situation arise. And often, those things happen in the blink of an eye, without warning. We're just talking common sense here."

Drabek also sees a problem when unleashed dogs approach dogs on leash.

"Dogs on leash become more protective, so it's incredibly unfair to assume, just because your dog is friendly, that it's OK to approach dogs on leash," he said. "And it makes it impossible for many people with dogs on leash to enjoy a place in the same way. As for things like coyotes, how could you possibly protect your small dog from a coyote attack? Off leash, you're basically just serving the dog up on a plate."

As for what can happen to owners, Drabek said, "Owners of an unleashed pet are liable for whatever the dog does, whether it goes to the bathroom or attacks another dog. We notice it more now on school properties, people letting their dogs run free, when they are not even allowed on the property in the first place."

And if a car hits an unleashed dog, the dog owner is responsible for damages incurred to the vehicle, harsh as that sounds, he added.

"It is simply not worth the risk, and not fair to the animal, to take it off leash," he said. "None of this is worth the risk. These ordinances are important and in place for solid reasons."

If you see any of the described violations, Drabek suggests calling OC Animal Care directly at (714) 935-6848 or via the Huntington Beach Police Department. From there, he will set up a patrol in the reported area. And take note, tickets run about $75 to $150.

To be fair, there are people who will leash their dog when asked. But there appears to be a growing number of dog owners who ignore admonitions or, worse, want to argue about it. They don't clean up after their animals, and they don't seem to care when it's explained to them that a dog on leash gets tense.

"My dog's OK," they'll say. "He won't hurt anything."

As if the dog actually told them that.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 18 books, including the new "Hello, It's Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie." You can write him at chris@chrisepting.com.

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