By BETH Sumner-Wichmann
Neighborhood roads, whether maintained by the county or by the residents who live there, are common spaces. They are the paths to our homes, they are where we exercise outdoors and, since we live in the countryside, they are often the places we ride our horses and walk our dogs, if we have them.
Common space requires common courtesy.
When we moved here 27 years ago, our neighborhood was less populated, there were fewer dogs, and it was easier to pinpoint owners who let their dogs run free. Times change and more people are seeking the quiet of the countryside. Many want the companionship and protection of their family dogs, but with dog ownership comes necessary responsibility.
Recently, in our neighborhood there has been a major influx of dogs who are allowed to run free. It’s become harder to know which dogs belong to any given neighbor. Several of these dogs constantly menace my husband when he walks our dogs who are always leashed. Our collie-shepherd cross rescue is partially blind and is the subject of frequent attacks. Fortunately, she has a heavy double coat and has not been injured so far. My husband carries a sturdy walking stick and uses it if necessary to run these other dogs off, but it makes his walks less than pleasant.
We live on a dead-end road, which we use to walk our corgi who is not up to 5K hikes. A few weeks ago, a neighbor’s dog sat near the top of the road, blocking its full use, while at the bottom of the road a strange pit bull blocked the other end of the road.
The last time I came home from grocery shopping, there were two strange dogs in our front yard. One of them ran off right away, but the pit bull refused to let me out of my car until it finally decided to wander away.
In rural areas there are also many risks to dogs who are allowed to roam. Domesticated dogs are not meant to run free. They rarely have the know-how or instincts needed to survive in the wild. The number of dogs who have disappeared from our neighborhood over the years is heartbreaking. Coyotes, cougars and even bears will prey on dogs who are left outdoors for extended periods. Typically, the predators go after the smaller dogs, but they will attack and kill large dogs as well.
Dogs who are allowed to run free also face other risks. They tend to chase cars which can lead to injuries-or worse. Our neighborhood, like many others, borders a major highway. Heavy traffic poses a severe risk, especially at night.
Most people in rural areas own guns. If a strange dog shows up on private property, it runs the risk of being shot.
Keeping your dog close to home doesn’t mean they have to be kept indoors all the time. Pre-made chain link fence kennels are available from local hardware stores or other sources at a range of prices. Depending on your dog’s personality, it can be as simple as creating an enclosure from stakes and hog panel fencing wire.
For those who have faced attacks by dogs, as of this writing, pepper spray is legal in New Mexico. Although it can be difficult to obtain support from Taos County Animal Control this far north, it is important to report every attack in order to document patterns of behavior.
Being a good neighbor means making the neighborhood safe for everyone, and this means following county rules and responsibly keeping your dogs on your own property, not letting them roam wherever they please.