Santa Fe is off the Leash

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll say up front, I’m no dog lover. Being chased by a pit bull, cornered by a German shepherd and on several occasions abandoned to clean up after and care for animals kept by my loved ones (who adore dogs!) has soured me on canine ownership.

But I still appreciate dogs. I understand their many useful functions, such as companionship and assistance, and in the care of responsible folk, they can actually provide safety. Most importantly, we human beings domesticated them for ourselves, so we owe them our care and stewardship.

This is not a commentary on dogs.

It's a commentary on dog owners. Here in Santa Fe, more than any other city I have lived, dog owners are off the leash.

Folks, I'm talking about a situation that goes beyond the countless unattended dogs on walk-abouts down Agua Fría that mysteriously elude our intrepid animal control trucks. Consider the following unvarnished examples of blatant negligence toward human and canine safety:

Several years back, three friends and I took a hike on the Winsor Trail. Thirty minutes in, we encountered three large dogs (two of which were Dobermans) that cornered us and began circling us like, well, vicious dogs! A minute later, the doddering, camouflage-clad owner appeared, complete with side arm.

He assured us he had his dogs under control by a remote device he fumbled with around his neck. Then, he immediately scolded me for my hiking stick, because it could have been "mistaken for a gun"—like the actual one in his holster.

Gesturing toward my stick, he explained that someone had killed two of his dogs with rifle a short while back.

During his soliloquy, I was thinking, Don't you think that's a good freaking reason to have your dogs on a leash on a public trail?

Exhibit B: Last year, my spouse and I were at a park with our 6-year-old. We were horrified to see a man (grinning like the clueless character he obviously was) being hauled down the street toward us by an 80-pound, un-neutered pit bull—on a retractable leash! We, and three other families with small children riding tricycles and scooters, departed the park to Mr. Clueless in favor of safety. This was a park for small children, not a dog park.

Recently at Fort Marcy Park, while giving my daughter a bike-riding lesson, another dog owner unloaded a huge hound from his car and then went for a walk. The animal was serene and on a leash.

I thought, Good, as it should be. That was until the hound unloaded a huge dump, in shifts, across the stretch of pavement my kid was riding on. The owner didn't pick it up, despite access to bags my tax dollars provide in several nearby dispensers. Who does that?

Here's the thing: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4.5 million people nationwide are bitten by dogs annually. The majority of attacks are on small children and the elderly. Most tragically, 20-30 of these attacks are fatal.

These perils, these potential perils and these fatalities (certainly) are avoidable if human beings would just restrain themselves.

Don't put your pets in high-risk, potentially disastrous situations with people or other animals. Be mindful and responsible stewards of your dogs. You owe it to them.

We don't need additional regulations. Let's just follow the ones we have. Leash your dogs in public places. It's the law.

And please, clean up after them. And don't leave them in your car, even for a few minutes, in the hot summer sun.

A final parting note: Please don't put your dog outside early on Saturday or Sunday morning and leave them barking desperately to come back inside. Your neighbors will hate you for it.

Andrea L Mays is a Santa Fean and an American Studies scholar who teaches at the University of New Mexico. Write her at

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