Privilege is a hot topic right now. When you think of our bubble in the Tri-Cities, we do not equate privilege with racial tensions, but there is a significant amount of privilege here, and it is the very same kind of privilege that is eroding society.
Off-leash dogs owners, before you get defensive and stop reading, I beg you to please hear me out. I understand that your dog is part of your family and is a significant member of your life. However, when you make that conscious decision to keep your dog off-leash with the full knowledge that it is against the rules, you are exercising your privilege.
This privilege that you may or may not be aware of, is the same kind that Amy Cooper had before her fear and racism spilled out of her. She got exceptionally defensive that someone called her out on the rules, then decided to take things further because she felt like the rules do not apply to her.
As a trail runner and mountain biker, my question to owners who don’t leash their dogs is why do you feel like the rules do not apply to you? Here are some of the responses I have often heard:
“Oh, they are friendly.”
“He loves kids!”
“He listens well and isn’t aggressive.”
“She’s energetic and needs to run,” or the opposite, “He’s getting old and won’t run off.”
The problem, however, is there is no exception in the bylaw for trails. None of those excuses I have ever heard would excuse you from a fine. There are specific and marked areas for off-leash areas, dog parks and signage.
If we must understand why the rules exist in the first place, there is a substantial list, from environmental reasons to safety concerns and extending to courtesy. But let’s just work with the courtesy angle.
The bylaws exist because it is a public space, and there are rules in place for humans. All humans — no matter their size, shape, abilities, age, sex or colour — have equal access to these public spaces. You have a right to be there just as much as I do, no more and no less. Your right to be there, however, does not extend to your off-leash dog. Your privilege and sense of entitlement allow you to bend the rules to convince you that your off-leash dog has more rights to the trail than another human being. It is difficult to digest but bear with me through your anger.
It is ultimately a sign of consideration, awareness and understanding when you leash your dog in a public trail. Your unleashed dog may cause harm to humans or other dogs) – through their aggressive behaviour or just by accident. But it would not be a problem for anyone (or you) if you did have it leashed. Is it less convenient? Perhaps, but you are also providing a better and more collectively peaceful space for everybody that uses the trails too, whether you are aware of it or not.
Furthermore, if your dog is perfect and can walk without complaints on a leash, why not be an example to other dog owners to follow the rules? We teach children to follow rules, so when did it become OK for adults to blatantly disregard them? When did your convenience supersede consideration? It has become too common and bending that rule has really become the ‘normal.’ It has become uncomfortable to even bring it up with friends and strangers in trails because it is a clear use of privilege: an exception to the rule.
If you have gotten this far, thank you. My sincere hope is that you think outside of yourself and your dog and start thinking of others. We all must coexist, and if we work collectively instead of selfishly, we succeed — something that has been demonstrated through this pandemic already. Being considerate and not making yourself an exception allows us to create a better society, starting from within ourselves. I hope that you consider this the next time you walk your dog on the trail.
Justine Ngai, Port Moody