For the dog’s sake, and for everyone else

To the Editor:

In reference to the letter, [I did not abuse Letty, November 14], I would respectfully like to share my reaction.

I love animals, I was brought up in a family that loved animals, and I had as part of my own family two dogs and a cat whom I loved with all my heart over a period of 18 years. Our second dog was a very high strung black Labrador, and the situation necessitated the hiring of a professional dog trainer, who came to our home. I was told, “We are training you, not the dog.” Several times a week I went to a local park to walk, play with, and train my dog the way I was taught. One day, as we were doing our “exercises” I heard people screaming at me from a fenced in tennis court, a distance away through the woods, to stop abusing my dog. This was traumatizing because I was not abusing my dog. I felt I was being a caring and responsible dog owner by undertaking the expense, time, and effort to train. And, those accusers clearly misunderstood what they saw.

I love to walk the paths and beaches on Island, and I find I am increasingly becoming scared to do so because more and more I am being accosted in one way or another by people’s dogs. So many dog owners let their dogs run free to do as they please. They are not on a leash or under voice control. Many dogs don’t listen to their owners. Yelling at your dog, who does not respond to your commands, is not having your dog under voice control.

I have been jumped on and scratched, left sandy and wet, bitten once, knocked into so that my hip was out for a week, had my clothes ruined and at times terrorized. Like the time I came around a bend at Sepiessa and came face to face with a pack of dogs of varying sizes with no owners in sight. The dogs stopped, started to growl, had their hackles up and moved towards me. I started yelling for the owners, who were far behind their dogs and did not have them within their sight or under their control. Thank goodness nothing bad happened, other than I was terrified, but why should anyone have to go through that? Another time, at the beach, a very large golden retriever charged at and was jumping all over me. He wouldn’t listen to his owner, who did not have him on a leash or under voice control. She yells at me to stop waving my arms because, she says, that was causing him to jump. I was trying to get him off me and avoid being scratched or knocked over. Somehow, unbelievably, her lack of control of her dog caused her to feel she could put the onus on me. And, I could go on with other examples.

I ask people as civilly as I can, under the circumstances, to please control their dogs if they approach me in any way. As a rule, the owners either get nasty, or ignore me, or just say sorry when they clearly don’t mean it. I thank people who have their dogs leashed or under control. A friend of mine, who is justifiably wary of dogs, said she was told by a dog owner not to come to the beach if she did not like dogs.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw reported in the MV Times, the incidence of dog related issues/complaints was up again this year. It is not the dogs’ fault, it is up to the owner to be responsible and be in control of their dogs, for their own sake as well as everyone else’s. Over the years, how many incidences have we heard of missing, lost and run over pets? A lot.

I do not know Mr. Freire, nor was I witness to the incident he described in his letter, nor do I know anything about how he interacts with his dog other than what he says in his letter. When Letty jumped out of the truck onto a road, the potential was there for her to have bothered someone or worse, to have been injured or killed. This is a circumstance for a responsible dog owner to address. And the use of verbal and hand commands are how one trains a dog.

The abuse of another human or animal is unconscionable and unacceptable, as is making a charge of abuse unless one is absolutely sure of what they witnessed. Hopefully, Mr. Freire did not abuse his dog, I sense he did not. Hopefully, his accuser is one thousand percent sure of what she saw before levying an accusation of abuse and hopefully, more dog owners will assume greater responsibility and control over their dogs, for the dog’s sake as well as consideration for others.

Deborah Silliman Wass

Chilmark