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I love walking around Black Mountain.

In addition to it being good exercise, the time alone outdoors listening to a podcast or music is a cathartic experience for me.

Walking the trails and neighborhoods around town provides an eye-level perspective you just can’t get any other way. The more time I spend out and about the more I tend to notice things, and one recent trend seems to have emerged over the past few months.

I am a fan of dogs. I had an awesome yellow lab named Dozer for 13 years until he passed away late last year. He was a very good boy and he was my buddy.

I also usually like other people’s dogs.

If you have a four-legged friend you take for strolls around on the greenway system or the sidewalks in town, I’ve probably encountered you and greeted your dog with “hey buddy” and a smile.

I’m not smiling at your dog because I have to, I’m doing it because I’m happy to see him or her.

One thing I’m never happy to see, however, is an unleashed dog walking up to me. It’s something I used to encounter rarely and used to typically dismiss as an isolated incident, but recently it’s become impossible to ignore.

I’m not the puppy police and I’m a strong believer in kindness, so I never express disapproval when I encounter a dog owner and their unleashed canine. But there is admittedly a moment of fear when I see an untethered dog moving in my direction.

As a kid growing up, I had plenty of run-ins with less-than-friendly dogs.

There was a chihuahua on the street where I grew up and if the ball went into that yard the game of football or stickball was dissolved on the spot and it was time to go home.  

Once in high school, I was walking home from the bus stop with a group of kids through the apartment complex when an angry dog darted toward us. One guy quickly jumped into the back of a nearby pick-up truck and I pushed two other kids in the direction of a staircase, which they ran up to escape the angry animal’s wrath.

As I made a beeline for a nearby hallway, I felt teeth clamp down on my backside. The bite barely broke the skin and my mom, to be on the safe side, called the local sheriff’s department.

The deputy asked me to show him where the mark was and I begrudgingly showed him. After the report was filed, my mom and sister got a good laugh out of the fact that there were teeth marks on my behind.

My father-in-law had a giant hound dog named Homer who hated my guts and once tried to bite for the serious offense of flicking off a light switch in my own home.

I now own a dog I inherited from my mom, and she just stares blankly at me when I give her instructions.

All of these dogs have one thing in common: they’re all dogs so a human can’t possibly know for sure what they’re thinking in a given situation.

That brings me back to the reason we have leashes.

On a recent Saturday morning I walked through Veterans Park and encountered three dogs, each with a different owner, walking around unleashed. It was one of those February days that offers a brief reprieve from winter, so there were a lot of people there.

I kept thinking how terrible it would be if the unleashed dogs ran into each other and had some sort of altercation. It also occurred to me that it would be even worse if one of the unleashed dogs ran up to an unfriendly leashed dog. Both of those potential scenarios would have the potential to ruin a relaxing trip to the park for everyone.

Dogs are without a doubt man’s and woman’s best friends and friendships are largely based on trust.

Because your dog thinks like, well, a dog, it relies solely on you to keep it safe. In a public place, like the park, there is too much stimuli for your dog to make good decisions. So your best friend is counting on you to be responsible for him or her.

Within the center of town, directly behind the former Bi Lo building, there is a dog park. It is fenced in and offers the public a space to take their dogs and let them run around without the restrictions of a leash. It’s an environment created solely for that purpose.

I love seeing you and your dog enjoying the park or the greenways or the sidewalks whenever I’m out walking around, but it’s a far more enjoyable when I know we’re all safe.

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