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FOOD FOR THOUGHT: How's your knowledge of PETiquette?

Carole Townsend

Carole Townsend

EDITOR'S NOTE: Carole Townsend, a correspondent for the Daily Post, is beginning a new blog called Food For Thought. It is available online at www.gwinnettdailypost.com/townsend.

Are you a pet owner? We are. We just love our two dogs, Cassie and Chester. They are both rescues, big, goofy golden retriever mixes who love people, other dogs, birds, butterflies, shoes and just life in general. They are very much a part of our family. But they are dogs, a fact of which I am ever mindful. They need to be controlled, sometimes corrected and always safe, both for themselves and for others.

Years ago, we had a neighbor who had a Doberman Pinscher named Robocop. I know, I know. Robocop was actually a pretty cool dog, but then again, I am a dog lover. The dog's owner did not contain his animal at all -- no fence, no leash when he was outdoors. As a result, Robocop terrified joggers, moms walking their babies in strollers and anyone else who found the sight of a Doberman racing toward them to be frightening. I knew and was familiar with the dog, so he didn't particularly scare me. I did not let my children play outside while he was free, though. Children can look like appetizers to some dogs, and their screaming and running only enhances the illusion.

Robocop did have one annoying habit. He decided early on in our relationship that it was his duty to relieve himself on my flowers and shrubs. Apparently he thought they were pesky weeds, and he was doing me a favor. Each time I would speak to my neighbor about his dog's shenanigans, the guy would laugh as if to say, "dogs will be dogs." He never offered to pay for the shriveled foliage, either. I never liked that guy. The dog's antics weren't his fault; they were his irresponsible owner's fault.

Not too long ago, I took my dog Chester for a walk. Now Chester is a funny, sweet, very strong dog who would never, ever hurt a soul. But again, he is a dog, and dogs can be unpredictable. You never know what might set one off. He never leaves our yard without being leashed; his size alone scares some people. Chester and I were walking one of the beautiful park trails we Gwinnett County residents enjoy, one with signage that marked clearly that all pets are to be leashed.

On the trail, we came across a group of men, early morning walkers like me, and they had an English Spaniel with them. The dog was not on a leash, and he bounded joyfully ahead of the men for a while. Then he'd fall behind, sniff and chase a trail, then catch up to his people. Then he caught sight of Chester. Chester strained and pulled at the leash, rolling to free himself (an irritating trick he's learned), and the setter zipped laps around him, yelping and inviting Chester to play.

The men just continued walking, while my arm was getting jerked out of its socket. By the time they realized their canine companion was not with them and they whistled for him, I was banged up and covered with dog slobber, twisted up in my dog's leash and sweating way more than I had intended to. Not the relaxing stroll I had envisioned.

I think that a lot of the bad rap dogs sometimes get is the direct responsibility of their owners. Just because we love dogs doesn't mean that everyone does. Just because a dog has a good temperament and "wouldn't hurt a fly" doesn't mean that he never will. Dogs can have bad days, too. It's our responsibility as pet owners to be sure our dog doesn't infringe on others' rights to feel safe and to plant flowers.

Of course, dogs are not the only animals who can be pets. The worst a cat can do when allowed to roam, however, is to give the neighbors a dirty look and make them feel somehow inadequate.

Do you leash your pet, or do you let your dog run free in a neighborhood or park? Either way, what's your reasoning?

Carole Townsend is a freelance writer and a 25-year resident of Gwinnett County. As a mom, a wife, a former corporate executive, stay-at-home mom and correspondent for the Daily Post, she brings a unique perspective to life and living it in Gwinnett. "Food for Thought" gives Gwinnettians a forum where they can share perspectives, opinions, advice and solutions, as well as enjoy a few chuckles.