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First off, the dog is OK. My “hit” was more of a “tap.” But the “tap” was accompanied by a “yelp” and the “yelp” was followed with a run to (and an embrace by) the owners (a man and a woman walking on the side of the road).
Here’s how it happened….
I had to run out late last evening to return a vehicle to someone and pick up our own. And, now that it’s finally getting dark in Alaska…it was dark. I was almost home, just downhill from our house, and I was going about 15 MPH on our bumpy, dirt road. So, I wasn’t going very fast.
I rounded a corner and saw two people on my right walking a dog…without a leash since that seems to be what most folks do around here. And, for the most part, dogs will stick with their masters and, for the most part, there’s no trouble…for the most part. So, I saw them and their dog to the right and I slowly swerved to the left side of the road to go wide around them. This was what they call “defensive driving.” I was paying attention to the road and the pedestrians and their dog. And I made sure to slow down and move my car away from them.
As I did this their OTHER DOG ran out of the brush to my left and right in front of the car. No warning. He was dark colored. It was dark out. He was running. I slammed on my brakes. I heard the female owner scream. I stopped the car. The owners ran over to the dog. The dog seemed fine and was given a big hug. We were all shook up. I kept asking if the dog was OK. They told me yes. And then the female owner said, “You might want to drive a little slower there.” I asked if the dog was OK again and they told me yes and I drove up our hill….just 1/8 of a mile to our home.
I didn’t get very far because I was mad. Very quickly I could feel myself getting mad inside. Not only was I shaken up by the experience, but I was mad. I WASN’T GOING FAST. I was paying attention. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. They were the ones walking their dogs without leashes (although there’s a leash law in the town). They had no flashlight. Their dogs had no lights or reflective collars. And here I was driving back to my house, made to feel like I was to blame.
Before actually reaching our home, I turned the car around. I was mad. I went back down the hill and…I was really mad but I was nice. I asked again how their dog was…once or twice. I told them how fast I was going and that I had swerved to the other side of the road to avoid them and had no idea a dog would come out of the brush right into my car. And then I told them what I really wanted to tell them…that I understand the desire to walk your dog off-leash, but that there is a leash law that, in part, protects dogs from things just like this.
They said they’d been meaning to get reflective collars (which wouldn’t have helped here).
They were very nice and told me that I shouldn’t feel bad about this and I informed them that I knew enough about myself to know that I was going to feel bad about this…that I, too, was shaken up by it.
I drove away again, knowing that, even though I was going to feel bad, I was going to refuse to feel guilty. I was not the one to blame here.
I’ve lived in this dog-happy town for 10 years now. One of our parishioners once said of Girdwood…”It’s a town of 2,000 people and 4,000 dogs.” And, even though there’s a leash law many folks let their dogs run free or go on walks and hikes without leashes on. I know I let my dog, Hurley, off leash sometimes when hiking on the trails or, on rare occasions on the bike path. And I know there are times, beyond my control, where he slips out the door and runs around the neighborhood on the very road where I hit that dog last night. But I keep him on-leash most of the time.
I’ve seen three dogs get hit by cars in Girdwood and a lot of close calls. And I’ve heard one person, up Crow Creek Road, tell of hitting a dog with her car only to be yelled at and berated by the owner to the point of tears when, again, the car was just going downhill. The dog wasn’t restrained. It’s not the driver’s fault.
Look, I’m still, as I write this, kind of shaken up by last night. I thank God the dog is OK and that I didn’t walk/drive away feeling like the owners were mad at me or anything. They said they were just scared and, as my emotions clouded what I said, I’m sure they did for them, too.
But I do wish more owners would restrain their dogs. It would limit the number of hits and near-misses. And it would limit the number of drivers who experience the trauma of hitting a dog and feeling like they’re the one to blame.