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Molly Hale: A plea for bike path civility in Northampton



I was walking with my leashed golden retriever on the Northampton bike path between Bardwell and Bridge Road. I heard a woman’s voice a couple of hundred feet behind me calling her dog to come back to her.

I looked back and here comes a lean, short-haired dog rushing toward us, hackles up. The commands obviously had no effect on this dog. Luckily the encounter turned out to be a neutral one and my dog and I headed off the bike path on a trail stomped in the snow, and this dog and her owner continued along the bike path. When I was well off the bike path, I happened to look back and see a runner on the path approaching behind the same dog and her owner. The runner was wielding a 6-foot long stick or branch, apparently having had prior experience with this or other unleashed dogs.

From my position looking up at the bike path, I couldn’t see what the dog was doing during this time, but as the runner continued down the path, brandishing the stick, he yelled sharply at the dog and its owner, “Back off! Back off! Put your dog on a leash! I have every right to run on this path! Back off! Control your dog! G-D liberals!”

Except for the epithet at liberals, I side with the runner. I expect he was fearful of an attack based on previous experience and angry at the dog owner’s lack of responsibility and lack of respect for other bike path users.

I’m guessing his feelings were intensified and compounded with frustration because of having been in this situation more than once. Meanwhile, the dog owner knew not only that her pet was not under her control, but that the dog had just run up to me and my dog in a possibly threatening way. While the sight of the large stick was alarming, the runner was justified in defending himself, if this dog was threatening him.

In my opinion, dog owners should make themselves aware of approaching runners, walkers or bikers and make sure to have their dog leashed at those times.

Even if a dog is super friendly, as mine is, and likes to run up to people for the sheer joy of greeting them, some people are afraid of dogs. Consideration dictates that they should not be forced into a situation that is scary to them. Also, an aggressive or merely enthusiastic dog can force bikers to swerve, possibly injuring them or others.

After the encounter, I heard this dog’s owner (with her pet now leashed) repeating to herself in a tone perhaps vulnerable, bitter, or bewildered: “G-D liberals!???” She wasn’t using the initials.

I wonder if she is still thinking, “What a jerk!” or “G-D Republican!” Such lingering thoughts would be regrettable because they mirror and give undue weight to a reactive comment the runner made while in an adrenaline-steeped moment of fear.

I hope that after the shock of the incident wears off, the woman and the runner alike will recognize that one’s responsibility as a dog owner is a separate issue from whether one is a liberal or conservative.

Responsibility and respect are fundamental values shared by liberals and conservatives alike. Speaking as a liberal, and a progressive one at that, but not a “G-D” one, I also appreciate compassion, honesty, equality and other values I expect the runner also shares.

I resent the runner’s accusation that irresponsibility and liberalism go together. I hope he recognizes that many in the community, both liberal and conservative, regret that his need for safety and consideration was violated today.

May all of us in this community work towards understanding each other and finding common ground.

Molly Hale lives in Florence.

Legacy Comments9

Weather permitting, I ride on the bike path from Southampton to Look Park every morning and I encounter both leashed and un leashed dogs . Most owners have their dogs leashed. The ones who don't are usually the ones who leave the dog "decorations" where they fall. If they haven't learned to respect others by now, I doubt that they will by reading our comments. It takes all kinds to make a world and for some, unfortunately, they feel the rules don't apply to them.

I have noticed a marked increase in the number of unleashed dogs in the city in all areas I frequent to take walks. The most alarming is on the multiple-use pathways (aka bike paths). It appears there are many who feel the law simply does not apply to them, and who cannot fathom that being charged by a dog of any size, but especially large, would cause concern. No one should have to wonder for one moment whether an unleashed dog that is approaching will jump, bite, etc. How is it acceptable to put others in this position?

With all the joggers and bikers that have been bitten by loose dogs, it's amazing that Cooley doesn't have to expand the Emergency Dept!

Ditto to the requests that owners bag their pets' poop. Yuk. And as someone who has been bitten by one of those dogs that "wouldn't hurt a flea" according to the owner, please realize that your conviction and assurances of your dog's friendliness may not be reassuring to strangers. Imagine being told that a child, playing with a loaded weapon, is "really friendly and wouldn't actually shoot anyone." How would you feel?

I would suggest that the woman who had not leashed her dog was probably a conservative. Not to be pejorative about it, but they often don't care about other peoples rights...just their own. And it's odd that the runner would accuse the woman of being a liberal since it was liberals who got the bike path built in the first place. I'm just sayin...

I happen to know liberals who think they are such good people that since they think their big dogs are loving to them that others should not be afraid and that these laws don't appy to them because they are such good people.

The rule on the bike path is to keep your dog on a short leash. When on my bike (commuting to work), I had an unleashed dog run up to me and I had to completely stop to avoid a crash or running over the dog. Luckily the dog was friendly, but the owner wasn't when I informed her the dog is supposed to be on a short leash, per the posted rules of the bike path. The rules (bikers alerting others when passing, staying to the right except to pass, dog leashes, etc.) are in place for everyone's safety: the runners, walkers, dogs, bikers, wildlife, everyone.

I spent a lot of time on the bike path last winter and was disgusted at the amount of dog waste that was left along the side of the path. What is so hard about picking up after your dog?

I, too, am an animal lover. I also feel that I am a respectful one. The bike path has too many dangers for all, including runners, bikers and children, for a dog not to be on leash. Even a friendly dog can cause havoc and danger if not properly leased and controlled to others (and I am also a liberal!). I would like to add one more thing - please pick up after your pet (most owners do, the few that don't really give us a bad name).

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