Dog days 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MIKE CRANE / TOURISM WHISTLER - Biking along the Valley Trail
  • Photo by Mike Crane / Tourism Whistler
  • Biking along the Valley Trail

There was no warning. My friend and I were playing a round on the disc golf course in the forest below Kadenwood when the sudden sound of a large animal charging caused me to spin in time to catch a very large white and brown dog, hackles up and teeth bared, come within inches of biting my calf. Thwarted, snarling and barking furiously, I raised my arm at it in threat, ready to spike one of my razor-edged golf discs into its head if it didn't back off.

That's when I heard the owner calling. We could see him through open forest about 100 metres away, and he saw us, easily comprehending what his ill-behaved and obviously poorly trained mutt was doing, yet he didn't move closer to resolve the situation or apologize, whistling from afar like some limp-minded twit until the animal spun off through the moss.

What kind of a fool allows their dog to randomly attack a stranger in a public area and takes zero responsibility? A Whistler fool, and it's far from uncommon.

"That was scary," said my friend in mute understatement (could you imagine if I was a child?).

"No shit," I answered, clocking my heart rate. "And a sign... Guess I'm writing about dogs after all."

I'd thought of writing on dogs this week (as I contemplate doing every year when they make themselves more apparent in spring — and more annoying), but was on the verge of backing off for the same reason I back off every year: I'm a dog person who had one much of his life, and though I'll take the occasional swipe at Whistler's perennial dog issues, I don't want to be that crank. Especially when Whistler is one of the more forward-thinking and pet-friendly municipalities in B.C.

But here's the thing: the muni has yet to crack down, and despite the general backcountry safety-mindedness of the funhogs who recreate on mountains and trails around here, when it comes to dogs many of these same folks overlook the risks these animals pose to themselves, wildlife, water quality and, most importantly, other people. This cavalier attitude translates to a serious problem in our parks, on our beaches, and (particularly) along the Valley Trail — all despite the laudable accommodations made in these same parks, with off-leash hours and proprietary areas (new one underway at Alpha Lake), and dedicated beaches and docks. I've lost track of the number of dogs I've seen in water they shouldn't be in, tearing up delicate fish-spawning habitat or contravening health guidelines, scaring and knocking over children, stealing food, running through picnics, colliding with people, or causing bike near-accidents.

All of which points to this: Whistler doesn't really have a dog problem, it has an owner problem. And I'll take this opportunity to ask the culprits — for you well know who you are, young and old, visitor and local — the following: Where does your warped sense of entitlement come from? Having a dog off-leash in public areas is like driving the wrong way down a one-way street and expecting everyone going the proper way to deal with it. You must be the same peeps who hang their dog-poop bags in trees and expect the rest of us to dispose of it for you.

In three days of riding the Valley Trail during Bike to Work Week I counted an astounding 56 canines with their humans illegally off leash (note to muni: think of the $$$$ you could garner in fines patrolling the trail for a single morning). If you were savvy enough to grab your dog's collar as I passed (a clear sign you don't trust the animal and further proof of your idiocy), I politely pointed out that your dog should be leashed, that there are signs everywhere you cannot have missed. I simply asked others if they were OK with a fine, and some, whose animals caused me to panic, I just yelled at. I got angrier and more vocal as the days wore on; if you were the brunt of one of these, good, you deserve it. I come by my rage with your irresponsibility honestly.

Seven years ago, riding the Valley Trail (ironically, with the same friend) an unleashed dog zipped between our two bikes causing me to jam on the brakes, stand the bike on end, hit the ground head first, and roll off to the side unconscious. Again, the cowardly owner left the scene without taking responsibility. Replacing my glasses and the helmet I split in two for $700 wasn't the worst part, nor the concussion and shoulder, elbow, hip, and knee abrasions. Far worse was the trauma of being terrified to ride a bike for a year, and to this day courting serious paranoia every time I ride the Valley Trail, a paranoia inevitably reinforced and justified.

But I've learned two serious lessons of self-preservation. First, despite the best of training, dogs are doomed eternally to be dogs, and your dog is only under control... until it isn't. Second, I'll never again hit the brakes to save another dog — hopefully it won't be yours.

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