By Sarah Schrock
It happens every few months. I get a phone call from a concerned neighbor or friend alerting me that my dog is running around town along the highway. In a brief state of panic, I look for my girl and she’s right where I left her, asleep in my house. Nope, the free-range dog running through town is a different black lab (actually my dog’s not a lab … but she looks the part).
Twisp’s free-range dogs have made a reputation for themselves. One of the AmeriCorps volunteers noted the number of unleashed dogs in town as unusual, but “cool” because they are all such nice dogs. One anonymous owner would prefer people not feed her dog, which can be found loping around town looking for handouts. The free-range dog is no new phenomena to town, and as with any free-range animal the phenomenon comes with traffic-related risks.
When we first moved to town there was a yellow lab that used to cruise the same route each day, making her way by Town Hall, through the Community Center, and visiting businesses on Glover Street. Her daily routine and schedule was so imprinted that business owners greeted her daily with treats, marking the workday by her passage. She did in fact get hit by a car. Her owners knew she was a free roamer and like many dog owners in town, they knew the risk.
They weigh the risk against the balance of freedom; the emotional wellness of the dog versus the risk of being hit. Especially in old age, town dogs can become depressed when kept inside the house or fence. Their instinct to roam becomes stronger, perhaps a prelude to their final journey.
Without animal control, there’s not much recourse for the town or county to impose leash laws. The town does require that dogs be licensed, and if your dog is fixed, you get a discount. The town also provides doggie bags at the park and along Glover Street, paid for by fees.
Annual dog license renewal ensures that any roaming dogs can be identified and returned to owners. Perhaps license fees could fund some traffic signs warning, “Open-Range Dogs, Use Extreme Caution.”
I know many of you out there have strong opinions about free-range dogs and their owners in town. I am not alone in feeling intimated on the way to the park by an aggressive pack of dogs — this is inexcusable. Recently my son was nipped on his bike by a dog. But by far the majority of Twisp town dogs have homes and owners who love them. Like the free-range owners, I can tell when my dog is depressed and needs a free run or chase to liven her spirit. Like wild animals, feeding roaming dogs only encourages their return and reinforces their wanderlust. Whether you like it or not, the free-range dog is part of the fabric of this community, and like one owner lamented regarding her dog, “not all who wander are lost.”
Other animals afoot are the horses gearing up for Methow Valley Backcountry Horsemen’s (MVBCH) Spring Ride, April 29 – May 1. Not to be confused with the Ride to Rendezvous put on by the Washington Outfitters and Guides Association, the Spring Ride is three-day, annual fundraising event hosted by MVBCH at Beaver Creek Campground. The event brings in money for trail maintenance and upkeep of horse related facilities at area trailhead and campgrounds. The annual campout draws riders from around the Northwest and includes a silent auction, Dutch oven cooking, potluck, campfire songs and stories. For more information, call Nancy Palagruti at 997-4802.