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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Retractable Leashes: The Good and The Bad

Just a few years into my veterinary career, I was driving home from work.  It was already dark out.  As I drove down the road, I could see the silhouette of a person standing on a sidewalk appearing to gaze into the road.  In the road, next to the curb, was a silhouette of a large lump.  I could not make out much more than this, but was concerned enough about the scenario to pull over and stop my car. 

I walked back to the unusual scene to discover the human form was a woman, probably in her late 40's, early 50's.  Unfortunately, I also discovered that the lump in the road was a not-quite-full-grown Golden Retriever.  In my proximity, I could now see that the dog was still attached to its leash, and the leash was still held in hand by the dog's owner.  In most situations, maintaining control of the dog by leash is safe.  But this leash was a retractable leash.

The woman was just standing there.  I have no idea how long she had been standing there.  She was definitely in shock.  She was unsure of what she should do.  Cell phones were hardly common at this time (dating myself, I know).  She knew she could not lift this now deceased large dog and carry him all the way home.  Yet she refused to leave him laying in the road.  She just stood there, puzzled, shocked, still holding the leash as if her dog would get up and continue on their walk.

I explained who I was, and offered to help her lift the dog into my car so we could take the body back to the veterinary office, and place him in cold storage, giving her time to decide what she would like to do with it.  Some people prefer to bury their pets on their property (not always an easy option with a large dog on the east coast).  Others have their veterinarians take care of the remains.  Still others opt to get the pet cremated and receive the ashes back.

As we moved the body of this ten month old dog,  I was able to get the rest of the story.  The two were walking down the street on the sidewalk, against traffic, as they did every night.  The dog saw a car coming and for some reason decided that this car's headlights were worth chasing.  He had never done this before, or at least was never ABLE to do this before, but tonight he charged after the lights.  The woman thought the lock on the leash was engaged.  It was either not engaged, or it broke under the force of the dog's charge.  The dog ran straight into the road after its target, still on leash, and was hit by the car and killed instantly.  The driver never stopped.

Retractable leashes are very convenient when used properly.  They should be used away from roads, traffic, or hazards of any kind.  Walk your dog to the park using a regular non-retractable leash.  When you arrive at the park or other place that will safely allow more running space, then you can change over to the retractable leash.  When changing leashes, never remove one leash until the other leash is safely in place.  A choke collar should never be used with a retractable leash as it would maintain tension on the choke collar and defeat the purpose and function of the choke collar, and potentially constrict the dog's neck.

The woman came to me several months later with a new puppy.  She became a client after my assistance was offered that night.  She never used the retractable leash while walking on the road again.  It was a tragic accident, but a lesson was learned by both of us that night.  A lesson worth sharing. 

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Anonymous said...

Everyone I know who has a retractable leash has scars (burns) from them to prove it. The dog pulls, they let go and the leash wraps around a body part. They are the worst way to leash a dog I've ever heard of.

At least with a regular leash you can wrap it around your wrist.

Tammy Hartwig said...

Thank you for writing this! I am not a fan of retractable leashes myself, however there is a time & place for them.

A retractable leash in my opinion, is simply another "tool" in our options of things to use with/for our dogs. I also know it to be true that what may work great for one dog, my not work at all for the next.

Again, thanks for writing about this,

Olwen Turns said...

Poor dog.

Not so long ago I was driving down a country lane and spotted a woman walking down the road then I noticed she had one of these contraptions in her hand and her dark coloured dog was on the other side of the road (my side). We were all very lucky.

Mary Maloney said...

What a sad story and what a tragic way to learn a hard lesson

Karen Schroeder said...

Thank you for this info. I learned something from reading it.

I have never purchased a retractable leash - I guess I never really understood the advantage of one, but was aware that some people really like them. Awhile back I visited an animal shelter; I had the opportunity to walk a couple small, senior dogs. The first dog a staff member gave me a retractable leash - I hesitated, but decided, "how hard can it be to get used to?". I never did get used to it. Seemed like I spent over half the time struggling with the lock/unlock, deciding when and if it should be used, etc. I'm sure it was just me and my inexperience with something "new". The 2nd dog they gave me a "regular" leash - I was glad, and it was a much more relaxed walk.

I take "Frankie" and our senior JRT "Fannie" for walks up a hill near our home, and around a nearby care center. There is no traffic, but I still feel more comfortable with a regular leash - I always have control. That's what I will stick with.

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Jessica said...

I have never been a big fan of retractable leashes, especially for big dogs. I have what I call a "multipurpose leash" for my 2 Great Pyrenees. It has clasps on both ends and a few d-rings in between so it can be configured as a double lead by running one end through the middle d-ring, creating a handle on one end and a double lead on the other. My favorite way to use it is to clip it around my waist for a hands free walk with my best friend.