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Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

Off-leash is lethal

By Gretchen Moore


January 26, 2015
Monday PM

Have you ever heard the sound it makes when a vehicle traveling at 55mph hits a dog standing in the road? As the owner of Groomingdales located at 12 miles N. Tongass, I've heard the sound more times than I can count on all of my fingers and toes and it never gets easier as it echoes in your head, over and over. I never can seem to run fast enough to the road to get to the pet in need.

Yesterday [Thursday] marks the second dog hit by a car on North Tongass Highway just in front of the Pet Resort. Two dogs in 2015 at mile 12. How many other dogs have been hit on other sections of the highway? As a business owner who is dedicated to rescuing dogs and is driven by the enrichment dogs provide to life, this saddens me beyond words to come upon their bodies laying lifeless in the highway and shatters my heart each time I hear that horrific sound of one being struck. Another life claimed by the highway.

Yesterday afternoon [Thursday], not even an hour before this dog was hit, there were two dogs running loose in the highway. Myself and staff members at Groomingdales had been outside trying to coax them out of the road. We were successful in enticing one out of the road and brought it to safety but the other one escaped capture. Just an hour later after it got dark, we all heard that awful noise and we rushed outside as quickly as possible. We were fortunate that Dr. Marna was physically already at the Pet Resort and we piled outside into the highway. Several cars had pulled over and turned on their hazards, as well as stopped to block traffic to allow us to safely remove the dog from the highway and load him into Dr. Marna's vehicle. Dr. Marna immediately drove him to her clinic for medical attention with our staff Laura, riding along to monitor and hold his head during the drive. Unfortunately, being struck by a car traveling 55mph usually always ends in tragedy. Another victim of Tongass Highway.

Hearts were broken yesterday. The people who witnessed the accident. The staff members here at the Pet Resort whose actions weren't enough and shouldn't have had to be. The staff at Island to Island for having to declare another victim and stop the suffering. And certainly the family of the pet that did not come home last night must have heavy hearts today.

First and most importantly, as a dog owner myself, I understand that accidents can and do happen. Leashes break, collars can slip off, and fences can be damaged and sometimes we don't realize it until our pet is already 2 miles down the highway. I do not know the circumstances of the three different dogs that were all in the highway in front of the Pet Resort at different times. I do know that one went to safety and another ended in tragedy. And 10 days before this one, we pulled another dog that was running loose, hit, and killed on the highway.

However, there are far too many dogs running loose in Tongass Highway for them to all be "accidental escapes." Some positively are accidents. Others are just owners who feel their dog should enjoy a little freedom-romp and they assume their dog is smart enough to navigate the highway and that drivers will slow down. Having just stood at the edge of the road yesterday, you should know that very few drivers slow down if they see a dog in the road or at the edge of the road. Very few even slow down if a person is standing at the side of the highway in an effort to coax the dog out of the road! And, many drivers who strike animals in the road don't stop after doing so. They simply proceed on their way, likely not wanting to see the wreckage behind them. Unfortunately, most pets aren't killed. They're very seriously injured but it often takes a considerable amount of time before they pass from their injuries and they are left to lay there until they succumb or until a driver who cares happens upon them and can take them to help.

Ketchikan regulations dictate that pets should be kept on your property. Despite Alaska being "the last frontier", Ketchikan has been progressive enough to pass ordinances requiring that your pet stay in your yard. And what a shame it is that such ordinances had to be written and passed in the first place. Do you not love your pet enough to want them to be safe and not severely injured or killed in the road? Again, we offer our most heartfelt sympathies and condolences to accidents that end in tragedies but most of these are preventable.

As a pet owner, you should inspect your pet's leash, collar, or containment system on a regular basis to make sure nothing is worn, rusted, broken, or malfunctioning. You should also keep a collar and a tag on the collar with a working phone number so you can be reached if your pet does accidentally escape, as well as having a valid License Tag on your pet so Animal Protection can reach you. Unaltered animals are also infinitely more likely to roam in search of their natural procreation needs. Spaying and neutering your pet will reduce wandering tendencies substantially.

And, ALL drivers of Ketchikan should be aware that accidents happen and irresponsible pet ownership does occur. Expect the unexpected. You should scan the road ahead of you and if you see an animal in the road, anticipate that it will run out in front of you. Brake early, turn on your hazards in an effort to attract attention for oncoming traffic to the hazard in your path, and if you feel comfortable and can safely help the animal, consider doing so. Never chase the animal or pursue it, as this can cause them to dart into the road or spook them and cause them to begin running which can make their behavior more unpredictable. Pull your vehicle completely off of the road with hazards on, keep yourself safely out of the road, and remain at the shoulder calling them to come to you. Stop calling if you head any traffic approaching and wait until the vehicle has passed to begin coaxing them again. Once you catch the animal, call Animal Protection (225-6660) for pick up during normal business hours, or, you can drop the animal off here at the Pet Resort if we are open. If it is after-hours, consider sheltering the dog for the evening in your home or asking a pet-loving friend if they're able to do so. We would highly suggest crating a pet that is not yours if you're keeping it safe for the evening.

This is a call to action that includes every single member of our community, not just pet owners. Drivers need to be giving full attention to the road ahead and expect the unexpected. A dog darting into the road from between the trees and brush could just as easily be a deer or even a child! If there is a hazard in the road, slow down and turn on your hazards. If you can help, consider helping. If you can't, warn oncoming traffic and proceed past with caution. Pet owners, show your pet respect by keeping them SAFE. Prevention of these accidents starts at home. Take appropriate steps to keep your pet contained to only your property. When you allow your dog to run free, you put the emotional welfare of many other people at risk.

It is completely unfair for unsuspecting drivers to be left with the guilt of hitting and killing your pet. It is completely unfair to the people and children in other vehicles who might witness it. It is completely unfair for the people who live along the highway to have to hear that fateful noise of a vehicle claiming another victim on Tongass Highway. It is completely unfair to the people who stop to render aid to the hurt animal. It is completely unfair to the veterinarian who might have to make the decision to stop the suffering for your pet. It is completely unfair for the staff at Animal Protection to have to scrape the remains of your pet off of the highway with a shovel and place them in a bag for disposal. And it is completely unfair for your pet to spend their final moments in life suffering in agony. Yesterday wasn't the first pets I had to pull off of the highway, but for the sake of everyone, can we try to please make them the last?

Off-leash is lethal. Please, respect your pets.

Gretchen Moore
Groomingdales Pet Resort
BARK Alaska Rescue Ketchikan
A voice for those who BARK, not speak
Ketchikan, Alaska


Received January 23, 2015 - Published January 26, 2015


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