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By Laurie Cleveland | 

One day last summer I was walking my dog on a Sourland Region trail when we noticed a large dog barreling down the trail without a human in sight. “Hello!” I shouted. “Is this your dog?” No answer. “Hellooooo!” At this point, my dog (who had been leading me) tried to hide behind me, then decided to make a quick retreat. Her leash wrapped around my legs, and she pulled persistently. “Come get your dog NOW, PLEASE!” Still no answer and no sign of a human. The dog was just a few feet away when his owner finally appeared, panting, with a leash coiled in her hand. “Put your dog on the leash, please!”

“He’s friendly,” she snarled. “What’s your problem?”

“This is a nature preserve. All dogs belong on the leash,” I responded. “There’s a sign at the trailhead.”

“Well, my dog wouldn’t hurt anyone. He’s friendly,” she repeated as I tried to maintain my balance (and calm) as her dog chased mine around my tightly bound legs.

“Put the leash on your dog now, please, and back him up so I can get loose.”

She reluctantly clipped the leash and backed away. “He just wants to play.”

I appreciate that. My dog likes to play, too. This is why we go to the dog park. In that moment, Zuzu clearly wasn’t having fun – and neither was I.

My niece was bitten in the face by a “friendly dog” that she knew. The owner and her mother watched in horror, and no one could understand what happened. Nothing she had done should have provoked the dog, and he had never done anything like that before. My niece has carried the scars her whole life, and it seems that I have, too.

The truth is that a dog off-leash on a trail – no matter how friendly – poses a threat to humans and other animals. If your dog is not on the leash, it makes it very difficult for you to control him – and also protect him. He may encounter an aggressive dog, unhealthy water, a diseased animal, or a protective mother who may attack him to protect her young.

The Sourland region provides important habitat for resident and migratory birds, fish, mammals, turtles, salamanders, and more. Bears, bobcats, snakes, and other critters seek refuge in Sourland parks and preserves. In fact, over 57 threatened and endangered species make their home here in the Sourlands. We are fortunate to share this wild space, and we need to take deliberate steps to protect these fragile populations.

A dog running off trail (or a human chasing it) could easily injure a ground-nesting bird, trample its eggs, or frighten it off the nest. Simply stepping on a salamander hidden under leaf litter could easily kill it. Startling an animal could cause it to lose precious calories or abandon its babies. As more and more incidences occur, wildlife populations drop.

So, please keep your dog on the leash, and pick up that poop!


“Why Leashing Dogs Is an Easy Way to Protect Birds and Their Chicks” by María Paula Rubiano A., Audubon Magazine.

Kentucky Warbler, one of the beautiful ground-nesting birds that breed in the Sourlands

“The Scoop on Dog Poop (and other trail etiquette tips)” by Roxey Lay, Wildlands Trust

Off-Leash Dog Parks in New Jersey locations, reviews, photos, water availability, etc.