By Katie Walsh
If you’ve ever walked the streets of Capitol Hill East, you may have seen me and my little pup trotting down the brick sidewalks, taking in the old architecture of the D.C. row houses and enjoying the outdoors. You may have also seen us trekking through Lincoln Park, the beautiful park where Massachusetts Avenue, North Carolina Avenue and East Capitol Street converge. And if you’ve seen us at Lincoln Park, you surely noticed one thing that sets us apart from all the other dogs and dog parents: I don’t let Ren off leash.
Before I had a dog, I frequently would run through Lincoln Park because of its unofficial dog park status -- unofficial, I say, because it’s a totally open area. There are no fences to speak of, just trees, sidewalk, street. Nevertheless, it was always a joyful for me to see the dogs frolicking with each other, and I knew that one day I would bring my very own dog there.
But, the longer I’ve had Ren, the more I realize we will never be one of those carefree dog-and-owner combos. Even with more training, there are just so many reasons why I will never let her off leash in an area without fences.
1. Ren loves people too much.
Now I know you’re probably saying, “But Katie, isn’t that a good thing? Don’t you want a friendly dog?” And the answer is, yes, of course. I love that Ren is such a sweetheart -- that’s why I adopted her! But Ren is like a trusting little kid on a playground -- if you offer her candy, she will get in your van. It’s only going to take one nefarious person with hot dogs in his pocket for me to be dogless again.
And honestly, who wouldn’t want to kidnap this one? Look how sweet she is!
2. Ren has an insanely high prey drive.
My absolute favorite thing about my dog is her ears -- she’s so expressive with them, and you can tell exactly what she’s thinking based on where they’re pointing. To the back and folded down, she’s submissive and excited to see you. Pointing out and angled back, she’s freaked out about something. And straight up and pointing to the front? There’s a squirrel in the vicinity.
I’m currently taking finals in my grad school semester and I have never focused as hard on something as Ren does on vermin in her line of sight. She stares, crouches and moves oh-so slowly forward so as not to alert the little critter to her presence. Then, all of a sudden, she’ll lunge, taking my arm holding the leash with her. In those moments, nothing -- and I mean NOTHING -- can break her concentration. She’d run across a four-lane highway to get a squirrel if she weren’t attached to me by leash.
3. Ren is an extremely curious pup.
If there’s a piece of poop, she’s smelling it. If there’s a person, she’s greeting him. If there’s anything out of the ordinary at all, she’s investigating. Pretty much nothing scares this dog. She’s genuinely interested in All The Things. And that means that in an off-leash situation, she’s bound to get hurt. It may be that she runs up to an unfriendly dog and gets mauled; it may be that she eats something off the ground that makes her sick. Whatever the case may be, I’m not trying to find out.
4. Ren’s life before us is one big question mark.
Ren was rescued from Rutherford County, North Carolina, where she was found as a stray. Beyond that, we don’t know much about her. She’s clearly a terrier mix, but what combination of which breeds we’ll never know. We’re theorizing she was part of a litter that was bred to be hunting dogs due to the aforementioned prey drive and the fact that she was found during what would have been the hunting season, but that’s about all we’ve got.
The point is, we just don’t have any idea what her life was like prior to Oct. 27, 2015, the day she was found. And because of that, on some level we’ll never be totally sure of what she’s capable of. I’m 99.99 percent sure Ren loves us and loves our home, but if she were off-leash, would she take off into the woods on instinct? I can’t say for sure. So, on leash and out of Lincoln Park she stays. Knowing what I know now, my advice to other dog owners is to really, truly take stock of the dog you’ve got. I know there are some dogs that can be trained and can handle an off-leash open area, but there are dogs like Ren that simply can’t. If you want to keep your pup, make a note of which one you’ve got.