Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas: Northampton must address problem of unleashed dogs; one runner’s story of injury
NORTHAMPTON — On Sept. 6 I went out for a run in the area of woods and meadows located between Smith College’s athletic fields and the Community Garden, on the south side of the Mill River. As I jogged a trail beside the river, an unleashed dog came bounding up the riverbank to greet me.
I don’t know whether he jumped up and knocked me over, or whether he simply got scrambled in my legs and I tumbled down. In any case, I made contact with the dog, lost my balance and took all the weight of the fall on my outstretched right hand. I landed on the hard-packed dirt, breaking two bones in my wrist, with one bone protruding into open air. I began to go into shock and struggled to breathe.
In some ways I was lucky. The dog’s owner rushed over to express her concern and stayed with me, offering comfort; a nurse with a cell phone happened to walk by, and called 911 (thank you, Bob!); the weather was mild and dry, posing no additional challenges as I lay on the ground and waited for the all-terrain vehicle to find me and carry me to a waiting ambulance.
But the physical, emotional and financial costs of this injury have been substantial. At Cooley Dickinson Hospital, I underwent two hours of surgery, had a titanium plate installed in my wrist, spent the night in the hospital and began an intensive course of painkillers and antibiotics. I will need weeks of physical therapy, and I have permanently lost some function in my wrist. Because of the splint, I am, for the time being, legally unable to drive and I have already spent hundreds of dollars on drivers and taxi cabs. I have not yet received the bills for whatever portion of my medical care is not covered by insurance.
It makes no sense for our city to allow unleashed dogs to roam freely among pedestrians and joggers. Allowing unleashed dogs to run in the same area as joggers puts everybody at risk. Joggers risk serious injury, and dog-owners risk inadvertently causing (and being held liable for causing) serious injury.
Are dogs legally allowed to run freely without a leash in the area behind Smith College? If not, why is this rule not enforced? At the moment, no provisions seem to be in place to protect joggers in this area from unleashed dogs. The so-called “dog park” has no clearly labeled boundaries, much less any fencing to separate unleashed animals from joggers and pedestrians.
No special times of day are set aside for walking dogs, which means that joggers have no choice as to when they can jog and avoid encountering dogs.
Surely we can find a solution. Surely we can learn from what other communities, such as Amherst, have done. It is high time that we bring together people in Northampton who love dogs, and people who love to walk or run without fear of being accosted by unleashed dogs.
Let’s have a conversation and figure out a way forward. After interested parties have had a chance to talk with each other, I hope that the City Council will make a decision about unleashed dogs that prevents accidents like mine from happening again.
I know of no registry that keeps track of how many joggers in Northampton have been injured by unleashed dogs, but I’m sure that I am hardly the first person in our city to have been injured in this way.
I hope to be one of the last.
The Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas lives in Northampton.