Checking through Pique’s e-newsletter as I do each morning, I was treated today to two colossal instances of human stupidity. In the first, someone literally sat down on a bench beside a large bear feeding (or being fed—investigation is underway) on leftover takeout food. It’s clear from the video, no matter how zoomed in, that the filmer is, at some point, within a bear’s-length of the animal. The level of stupid required to do such a thing—whether stemming from lack of intelligence, poor education, bad parenting, drunkenness or social-media reality dissociation—is, pardon the pun, barely fathomable.
The second instance, more easily imagined if you’ve ever wandered the village late at night in October or November, also redlines on the stupid spectrum: someone following a bear through the village at close range—a bear that turns, several times, to establish body language that lets the person know it doesn’t appreciate being tailed (yeah, pardon again). As news reports point out, beyond the obvious stupidity of putting oneself in danger, there is also the recklessness, unconsciousness and selfishness of putting the bear in danger, whether by positively reinforcing the accessing of human food that often leads to irredeemable behaviour and euthanasia, or provoking a human-bear conflict that would likely end up with the bear’s death as well.
Stupidity—defined as behaviour that shows a lack of good sense or judgment—can be a momentary or lifelong affliction. In Whistler, happily, it seems mostly the former, and heavily associated with entitlement. So it isn’t exactly new. Or even confined to Whistler (check out the epic @touronsofyellowstone feed on IG, which makes “Whistler stupid” seem like intellectual high ground). But it does seem to be increasing in frequency—everywhere. It was certainly on display Oct. 8 as I was running the Turkey Trot 10 km through Lost Lake Park.
On the course, I passed 17 people with dogs. Not one of them—not a single one—were on-leash. Despite signs advising owners otherwise, off-leash dogs aren’t uncommon here, but these numbers seemed egregious even by Lost Lake’s rock-bottom standards. As did the fact that these pups and their owners were on sections of main and side trails closed for the race (I confess to being far back of the main running pack and the intervening space being, well, somewhat empty). In several cases, unsuspecting dogs got in my way as I ran. A pair of playful labs even nipped at my pants. Fortunately, I’m not afraid of dogs and can deal with them even when they’re behaving badly. Yet, I am acutely aware there are many in our community for whom this would have been a genuinely terrifying moment.
Here we had three simultaneous levels of stupid: off-leash in a multi-use park, off-leash during a running race, and off-leash at a time of year when black bears, cougars and coyotes—which I run into on the regular at Lost Lake—are more active in the valley and more frequently encountered. Some off-leash dogs were small and yappy, some medium-sized and quiet, others large and rambunctious; few, however, were under the kind of control one associates with the command “heel.” In fact, the forest literally rang with the sound of people desperately trying to recall Fido into visual range, the poor animals having no idea of the malfeasance they were participating in.
Of course, it all became stupider still when it was learned there was a grizzly bear within half a kilometre of all of us during the race. This on the heels of a fatal grizzly attack in Banff National Park the week before that may have involved an off-leash dog. However, had you pointed out as much to the offenders, they’d likely fall back on the How could I have known a grizzly was around? argument without registering the irony that such unknowable circumstances are the very reason for leash laws. Fortunately, none of them had to learn a sad lesson.
But the Resort Municipality of Whistler knows about leash laws, because it has them. And yet, despite all the good and smart and forward-thinking things it does as a corporate entity, it’s hard to understand its reluctance to abandon its failed “educational” policies around leashing and come down hard on offenders who are truly endangering themselves, public safety and the lives of wild animals. One might even say it’s stupid by definition—especially given the latest data on dog bites in Whistler reported to council, hazards on the Valley Trail increasing daily with strollers and e-bikes and ever-more encounters with wildlife—now including grizzly bears. I mean if people with unleashed dogs want to risk an encounter with a wild animal, that’s their business, but I’d take greater umbrage (and liability worries) to their irresponsible approach when it potentially affects those they’re sharing trails with (i.e., the scofflaws who bring unleashed pets up Blackcomb’s Ascent Trails).
I bang this drum every few years because not only have I been charged, chased and bitten by unleashed dogs while running the Valley Trail, but an innocent, unleashed dog once sent me over the bars of my bike, knocking me unconscious, splitting my helmet and glasses and causing some fairly painful injuries and a concussion. The person didn’t apologize or even leash their dog—they simply took off, too embarrassed to admit to their stupidity.
Leslie Anthony is a Whistler-based author, editor, biologist and bon vivant who has never met a mountain he didn’t like. n