Thoughts on Lead Leashes, Facing an Empty Nest

Q: I’d like to know what you think about retractable leashes for
dogs. I have seen more people with these and a lot of the time,
their dogs are out of control. I hate these things! What do you
think about them?
Q: I’d like to know what you think about retractable leashes for dogs. I have seen more people with these and a lot of the time, their dogs are out of control. I hate these things! What do you think about them?

A: In the right circumstances, retractable leashes are great. But in many cases, they can be a real problem because they don’t provide a dog owner with good control of his or her pooch.

Retractable leashes are really fun and convenient. They allow people to give their dogs lots of extra leash line and they reel up all this lead line into a nice little carrier. But retractables are a potential liability for someone with a pooch that is even the least bit excitable (this means almost any dog). Let’s take an example, say, someone walking their pooch in the park.

This dog walks along with the lead out to 15 feet. It’s a great length for him. He gets a lot of roaming room and with that much lead, he can really check out a lot of territory.

But suddenly, he sees a cat run by him and into some nearby bushes. He leaps toward the cat and winds his way through the brush, his owner unable to keep him under control. This poor dog ends up with lots of stickers and foxtails stuck in his fur (and maybe a scratch on his nose).

Another problem scenario occurs daily in veterinary hospitals. A dog on a retractable leash comes in for a visit with the vet. In the waiting room, he’s given a little extra lead, maybe to sniff something in the corner of the room. His owner probably thinks it’s all right to let him explore. After all, usually he’s a good boy. But something happens to excite him. Maybe a dog comes in the front door or one of the other dogs in the waiting room barks. With all that extra leash, this dog lurches toward the other pooch. There’s an immediate confrontation because his owner can’t keep him under control without a shorter leash.

Sometimes these confrontations are friendly. Sometimes they develop into a real conflict. People and animals can get hurt. And all this could have been avoided if he had been on a short lead at his owner’s side. Too much leash. Too much freedom. Too many problems.

The bottom line is this: Retractable leashes are great for a long walk in open space where there are no major distractions, no bushes and no need to keep close control of your dog.

But in close quarters, dogs should be kept on a short lead, next to their owner’s side. There really is no other way to maintain control and prevent problems.

All animals that go to a vet’s office should be properly restrained. Dogs should be kept on a short leash. Cats should be in carriers. We’ll discuss more on proper transport and restraint of small pets next time.

People are like animals in many ways. Fact is, we are animals and all of us have some animal instincts. Most of the time we just don’t recognize it. But our lives parallel those of furry and feathered critters in many ways.

This past summer has been interesting for our family. As I wrote last month, Peg and I took a long vacation to the Pacific Northwest. We visited with old friends and met some interesting animals and people.

Not long after we returned, we cleared a very important milestone … we helped our last child move out of the house. Like so many other parents and like all birds, we emptied the nest. And while it wasn’t easy –or entirely pleasant – we now have a sense of accomplishment and security that everything will be OK.

I remember some 24 years ago when our first-born joined us. One of our friends told us that having children and starting a family was like jumping off a cliff. We never really knew how we would land when we brought Sarah home for the first time. She and Mary and John changed our lives completely. They made us into different and better people. Together we developed a kind of karma in our home, something that I wished would never end.

One by one they moved out. John was the final one to go just last month, off to college to pursue his dreams. Each of our kids thought about following in their father’s footsteps. But each decided to make his or her own path.

After each one left, there was a period of adjustment for us. Like all parents, we felt both sadness and exhilaration, pride and relief. Parenting had been wonderfully difficult. We didn’t really want this stage of life to ever end. But like so many birds, we had to let the last one leave the nest. And it feels painfully wonderful.

Parents can only give guidance and love. The rest of their children’s lives is up to them. As young adults, the kids are suddenly on their own to make their own decisions.

Many birds never again see their offspring after they leave the nest. They don’t get to watch as these new lives develop. This is where humans differ. And now that our children have moved out, Peg and I move on to the next stage in life. And we find ourselves watching our kids with even greater enthusiasm than before. And we feel very, very lucky.

Pete Keesling is a veterinarian at San Martin Veterinary Hospital and co-hosts Petpourri, a weekly show about pet health on KTEH in San Jose and a bi-weekly column for South Valley Newspapers. If you have any questions about pet care, please mail them to Vets, 30 E. Third St., Morgan Hill, Calif. 95037.