Yin-Yang Unleashed: Our love for the off-leash dog

photo (17)Last month I was wandering around Literati–one of Ann Arbor’s fabulous new independent bookstores–and came across Mary Oliver’s book of poems, Dog Songs. In it was a short poem titled “If You Are Holding This Book” which ends with the following lines:

that of all the sights I love in this world–

and there are plenty–very near the top of

the list is this one: dogs without leashes.

Reading that last line made me smile and ache at the same time. Because it hit directly at that tender, often elusive space between my unbridled love for wild, unrestricted dogs and my need to be a responsible, conscientious dog owner (and all of the practical baggage that goes along with it).

Initially that ache made me resent everything I know about dog behavior, pet overpopulation and civic responsibility and made me long for the days when I was blissfully ignorant of it all. Because over the last few years, the sight of an off leash dog really has lost much of the joy and magic I once associated with it.

Then I thought some more about it. And it’s really all about the yin and yang of it. I am both a romantic and a cynic.  A person of spirituality (or faith, if you prefer) and a lover of science. And there is absolutely no reason I can’t manage to love the sight of off leash dogs again, and still work to do my part as an informed, responsible owner and community member. These are complementary states of being, not oppositional.


This past Christmas Eve was a frigid but stunningly beautiful and sunny snow-covered day here in Michigan. And my husband and I celebrated with an afternoon walk with Buster Brown, that included stealing some off leash time at the high school because it appeared safe to do so, and it made all three of us ridiculously happy.

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Here’s to a more enlightened new year, highlighted by the interdependence between the wild abandon and conscientiousness that lives within every person who has the pleasure of sharing their life with a dog.

And in that spirit, here’s one of my favorite new resources from D.I.N.O.S. that playfully addresses that interconnected space: Should I Leash My Dog Flowchart

About emily douglas

Emily Douglas authors The Unexamined Dog blog and writes regularly about "pit bull" advocacy, humane education and the parallels between the education field and the dog world. Emily and her dog, Peaches volunteer as a registered therapy dog team in the Southeast Michigan area, where their visits are affectionately known as Peach Therapy.
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4 Responses to Yin-Yang Unleashed: Our love for the off-leash dog

  1. gabriellevannini says:

    Beautiful photos! And a really good post. There is nothing I love more than watching a bunch of happy dogs bounding around off leash in a safe place and I am glad I have the luxury of having quite a few places to allow my dogs to do this. I’ve worked my butt off on recall with my dogs – nothing else matters all that much but I want them to have a solid recall so they can be allowed to go run around freely and really enjoy themselves.

  2. missycaulk says:

    Happy New Year Emily, great photos. If I move from my 1.3 AC home, I am not sure what I will do because my pups have never been on leashes. This gives me something to consider. Faith and Science, yup are not at all incompatible.

  3. Love this. That’s all I have to say. Love it 🙂

  4. Irmie says:

    Haven’t read anything in a long time that came as so perfectly close as your article did to defining how I feel about myself and about dogs, and us combined. You are not alone, and I appreciate how eloquently you were able to communicate what I feel but was unable to verbalize.

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