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Gone To The Dogs

by Samantha Wilkinson, Park Ranger Reid State Park, Maine

I connect with Fenway, Camden and Willow, my three basset hounds, almost daily at Reid State Park. From Oct. 1 to Apr. 1, when leashed pets are permitted on park beaches, it is indeed a blissful time for the Wilkinson pack.

It must look funny to other beachgoers, the three dogs frolicking beside me as we walk. Like furry fencing swords, their snouts clash all the way down the beach, in playful defense of the lead position or a clam shell or a clump of seaweed. They tackle each other frequently as we walk, and pileups occur when one of them trips over her own ears.

Things can get high-spirited, and having them on the leash, admittedly, can be awkward. I can identify with other dog walkers who yearn to unhook the constraint. Even when I have only one dog in tow, I feel the call of the wild.

While visiting Reid, and all Maine state parks, however, I have to curtail that urge. Wearing a park ranger uniform for 25 years has brought me in contact with thousands of park visitors, and I have discovered that a surprising number of them, for a variety of legitimate reasons, are not particularly fond of our four-legged friends.

An exuberant puppy is not cute to everyone and can easily topple an elderly person walking on the sand. To folks afraid of dogs, even a small one running at large is cause for genuine alarm. As dog owners and park patrons, we must cooperate with Maine’s leash law because it is critical on many levels. It protects our pets, prevents damage to our delicate ecosystem, and ensures the continued pet-friendly policy of Maine state parks. Plus, it’s just the polite thing to do.

Some great dog parks can be found throughout the state, and many were designed specifically with off-leash doggie adventure in mind. Maine state parks were not. Porcupines, busy parking lots, fragile habitats and other visitors with pets can all prove problematic for the unleashed canine.

There’s another reason to keep ‘em leashed -- if only it occurred to me before Ralph and I allowed Fenway to run free on the New Hampshire beach that winter day! She was still just a pup, and the spot was deserted in the off-season so we didn’t see the harm.

We didn’t see the dead thing either, but Fenway ran to it like a little kid to the ice cream truck. Before we had time to react, she had flung herself into the decaying pile of goo, and with joyful, reckless abandon, she squiggled on her back, fat little basset paws kicking the air in delight.

By the time Ralph got there and plucked her from the slime, Fenway already had coated herself ears to tail with its awful fragrance. 

It was a long, cold ride home that evening with all the car windows down. Our terse debate over whose idea it was to get a puppy in the first place was punctuated by occasional gagging noises. The car reeked for days -- to say nothing of Fenway.

It didn’t have to go down that way, and we learned our lesson the hard way. A leash would have saved the day, not to mention the car upholstery.


Published: 04/05/2010


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