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The Observer's culture blog

Thursday, July 2, 2020

DANGER AT THE DOG PARK: What Every Visitor Needs to Know.

Swift Run Dog Park sign
Inspired by Kathleen Perry and written by Nancy Drubel

Let me first say that we’re PRO dog parks. The Swift Run Dog Park (corner of Ellsworth and Platt roads in Ann Arbor) is 10 acres of fenced grassland where dogs can run and play in a protected environment. It’s a great place to take your dog for exercise and social interaction.

The five of us have been meeting at Swift Run for over 10 years. We are older women, from very different backgrounds, who have bonded over conversation and the mile walk we take each morning with our dogs.

A founding member of this women’s walking group is Kathy, a 71-year-old great grandmother who’s raising three small children under the age of 10. Frail and helpless she is NOT, in fact she’s one of the strongest people I’ve ever met.

All that said, this article is about a hidden danger of the dog park and what happened early one morning.

Kathy never saw him coming (none of us did). In an instant, an 80-pound dog running at full speed plowed into her body from behind, tossing her into the air and throwing her to the ground. She was hit so hard that the fall fractured and dislocated her right ankle.

With Kathy writhing in pain on the ground, we called 911 and waited for the EMTs to enter the park and carry Kathy out on a stretcher. After an ambulance ride and a trip to the emergency room, she eventually had to have surgery to put a plate and pins into her ankle and she’s looking at months of pain and rehabilitation.

This was supposed to be a fun visit to the dog park, just like the ones we’ve been making every day for years. Who knew something like this could happen?

Yet in all probability, the dog that hit Kathy has done this before. There are dogs who use people’s body parts (e.g., shins, knees) to stop themselves. It is sometimes called "charging."

I used to have a sweet, gentle, 60-pound-dog, aptly named Teddy Bear, who had a nasty habit of running into the back of my legs. If you think that a dog running full force will veer off before hitting you, think again. Some don’t.

If your dog has been known to charge people, think twice before bringing them to a dog park. If you do go, watch your dog carefully and alert others to his/her charging habits. (I used to yell out frequently: "Teddy’s here, watch your knees!")

As a responsible owner, you have an obligation to let people know what to be on the lookout for, similar to letting people know if your dog has been known to bite. A dog does not charge once and then stop – most have a history of the behavior.

Here are a few suggestions to make the dog parks safer for all:

1) Be aware that some dogs charge.
2) If your dog charges people, you should consider skipping the dog park.
3) If your dog charges and you’ve still decided to go to the dog park, don’t go during high-use times (go early or late instead) and stay with your dog so you can announce the danger and intervene if necessary.
4) If a dog charges you, try and move to the fence line (though too frequently the dog comes out of nowhere and there’s no escape).
5) Do not bring small children to the dog park; if Kathy had been a child, the blow she took could have killed her.
6) Do not put your children on your shoulders – if you go down, they will fall far and hard. And remember, sometimes you just don’t see it coming.
7) If your dog charges someone and that person gets hurt, offer to pay medical expenses.If your dog bites someone, you should offer financial support; charging casualties are no different.While the owner of the dog that knocked Kathy down was distraught, we didn’t get his name and haven’t seen him since.

This accident has changed the trajectory of Kathy’s life. It could have been avoided had we known the dog was prone to charging.

Who knew something like this could happen? Now you do.

Posted by John Hilton at 9:55 a.m. | 4 comments Bookmark and Share


Babs Klaver said...

Scary story, but good to know. Harrowing to think that a great grandmother could suffer an injury like this while walking her dog. Thanks for sharing.

July 8, 2020, 3:24 p.m.

Lynn said...

Thank you so much for what could be lifesaving advice for a child or elderly dog owners like my self I have Portuguese water dogs who know where their bodies are and where a person's body is so they never bump a child a baby or an elderly person unfortunately for me I had my eye on my dog in front of me when I was charged by a dog whose owner did not claim him. Until I left the park supported by friends and limping in pain physically supported by friendS in hindsight I wish I had them call an ambulance. I drove myself to Ann Arbor Hospital my leg was fractured and required extensive surgery. I was in rehab for six weeks. I have been thrown up in the air landing on my leg had I've been informed As I now have reading your article I would've found the owner and the dog so no one else could be hurt. Recovery time took over six months. It is my assessment that no matter how gentle your dog is Do not assume that other dogs will not charge you. Please don't bring children to dog parks They can to easily be seriously injured. I weighed 135 pounds and was literally thrown up in the air, Years before mix of lab and poodle charged my knees followed by a Rottweiler chasing the first dog it caused a serious meniscus tear of my knee resulting in pain and suffering for months afterwards. Had it been a child instead of me this 300 pound combined attack what cause serious injury or death. Again thank you for alerting parents and grandparents to this potential danger. I hope you disseminateThis article to other communities It's important that we have dog parks in every community because it socializes the dogs and prevents attacks on children The rule should be children's park for children and dog parks for dogs and owners as long as the owners are adults. Perhaps another way to protect oneself from a charging dog is to have a large walkingstick that you can hold in front of you so that they are deterred and go around you and have somebody who is behind you on the lookout for charging dogs and can push you out of their path or pull you out of their path.

August 6, 2020, 6:41 p.m.

Michael Sola said...

From a Dog Park designer: You alone are responsible to be aware of your surroundings at all times, while in a "dog park." That dog park is completely open and there are no blind spots. Enjoy chatting to people, while you are in the activity area, But keep your eyes on what is around you and be ready to move away from dogs that are come close to you, while they are vigorously exercising. It is not a "people" park, it is a dog park.

August 29, 2020, 12:23 p.m.

Cecil Hogan said...

People are the problem at the dog park. Socializing not paying mind to their dog. I was approached by a group of regulars in a pack to be informed of their rules. Very controlled. Never went back

August 30, 2020, 9:03 a.m.

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