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Nothing like bad dog owners to spoil a good hike

By Mark Saal, Standard-Examiner Staff - | Nov 26, 2017

I've always thought of myself as a dog person, but it may be time to reconsider.

Frankly, all it would take is one more experience like I had on Thursday, and I could easily see myself squarely in the not-really-a-fan-of-dogs camp.

On Thanksgiving morning, my wife and I took our daughter and three grandchildren -- ages 5, 7 and 9 -- for a hike up Adams Canyon, in the foothills above Layton. It was a beautiful day, and plenty of others had the same idea.

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We kept the children close, reminding them of proper trail etiquette along the way: Move to the right as people approach or pass, avoid shouting or other loud noises so all can enjoy the quiet of nature, don't litter or throw rocks or go off-trail.

Those around us were equally courteous, including many with pets. We passed a number of hikers with their pups on leashes, or under close voice command. In each case, the pet owners could tell that our grandkids were wary of animals, and they quickly drew their dogs in close to them as they passed.

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Then, about 15 minutes into our hike, we met our first problem off-leash dog. Two men and a dog were coming up the trail behind us; we moved to the side of the trail to allow them to pass.

The unrestrained dog came bounding toward my youngest grandson, who was uncomfortable with the approach of an animal that clearly rivaled him in weight.

I stepped between my grandson and the dog.

"Don't worry," the dog's owner called out cheerfully, "he's friendly."

"I'm not worried that he's friendly," I replied just as cheerfully. "I am worried about my grandchild's allergies."

The man sheepishly shrugged as he passed us.

A shrug, people. That's all I got.

At least twice more on our hike, off-leash dogs came running up to our grandchildren. And at least twice more, the dogs' owners insisted that their pets were perfectly harmless.

At the end of our hike, as we approached the parking lot, a golden retriever playfully ran up to our oldest grandson -- at full speed -- bumping into him and nearly knocking him over.

"It's OK," the owner assured us. "She won't hurt you."

I beg to differ, lady. A large, energetic dog can easily knock a child to the rocky ground. And if that collision takes place where the trail skirts a steep slope or ravine, an uncontrolled dog could indeed seriously hurt my grandson.

But that's not the only concern here. Some hikers -- my grandkids included -- have significant pet allergies. If a dog were to lick my grandson on the arm, he would break out in an itchy rash. If the dog's fur came near his face, he could end up with painfully puffy eyes and mild-to-moderate respiratory problems. Certainly not life-threatening, but extremely uncomfortable. And completely inexcusable.

I really do have a Will Rogers attitude toward dogs -- I've never met one I didn't like. It's just that I like my grandkids even more. So when your "friendly" dog approaches us uninvited? That's when I'm going to get unfriendly. Because such dogs' behavior is no more adorable, or acceptable, than if my grandchild were to suddenly run up to you and sneeze on your arm, or wipe his nose on your sleeve.

And as long as I've already got folks upset with me for this perceived War on Dogs, here's one more "pet" peeve for you:

I simply could not believe the amount of dog feces we encountered along the trail on Thursday. A couple of landmines were left directly on the trail, but many, many more were within a foot or two of the path.

At one point, my wife overheard a conversation among four hikers as she watched their dog doing its business next to the trail.

"Did you bring a bag?" one hiker asked.

"No, did you?" came the reply.

Again, a shrug before they all simply turned and walked away.

Such deplorable behavior is every bit as disgusting as the smokers I see flipping their cigarette butts out the windows of their vehicles.

To the vast majority of hikers who are responsible pet owners, I offer a heartfelt thank-you. And to those who aren't? I say the same thing I'd tell permissive parents at, say, a nice restaurant -- "If you can't exercise at least a modicum of control over your children, kindly keep them where they belong. At home."

Despite this long-winded rant, I really do still consider myself very much a dog person.

As it turns out, I just don't care for some dog owners.

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/MarkSaal.

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