Your dog, my bike and the leash law

Life in the Bike Lane column
By: Tom Frady
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Dogs.  I love ‘em.

Recently, one of our club members had a run-in (literally) with a friendly (aren’t they all?) black lab.

Briefly, here’s what happened.  Two riders were riding on Val Verde Road, near Dick Cook Road.  A woman was walking two dogs on the opposite side of the road.  Only one dog was on a leash and it was the loose Lab who ran at the first rider, looking to play.  The first rider had enough speed to get by, but when the dog turned to play with the second rider, the rider hit him broadside and went over the handlebars, sustaining some serious road rash.  His helmet, which was broken in the fall, saved his head.

The typical dog scenario is Dog A, a medium-sized short hair, will bark at us and run along his property line on his side of the fence.  Dog B, the goofy big dog, is more interested in chasing Dog A than us bike riders.  Finally, Dog C, a Chihuahua/sponge mop mix, will eventually leave the porch and join the fray.  All will end up in a heap when they come to the corner of the fenced property line.

No bite.  No problem.

Some dogs can’t be bothered to chase us and bark from a prone position in the shade. 

On rides out in the flatlands around Nicolaus, we have encountered an unfettered German Shepard, who appears to be eligible for residence in Lincoln Hills (in dog years).  He plans his trajectory well, recognizing his compromised agility, but doesn’t quite know what to do when he finds himself in the middle of 10 riders traveling at 15 mph.  So many legs to bite, so little time. 

And, of course, traffic is an issue.  A dog focused on a bike rider is not going to see a car coming as he streaks across the road.  We have witnessed the sad result. 

Cyclists who have to swerve to avoid a dog put themselves in jeopardy from cars, as well.  Two dogs rushed a group of eight or 10 of us on Wheatland Road. Three or four riders were moving fast enough to get by. One rider slowed quickly to avoid one of the dogs and was hit from behind by a trailing rider. Both went down on a narrow road with fast-moving traffic. Thankfully, the road was straight and flat so drivers could see what happened.  Injuries were minor but one bike could not be ridden without expensive repairs. 

Like every other California county, Placer has a leash law.  It’s simple.  According to the county website,

“. . . it is illegal for people to allow their dogs to run free in unincorporated areas of the county.  Here in Placer County, the ordinance requires that if a dog is off its owner’s premise, the dog must be on a leash or in an adequate enclosure.”

A dog must be both on a leash and under the handler’s control, not one or the other.  A dog that causes a bite or scratch on a human must be quarantined and that’s expensive.  Dog owners who let their dogs run free can be cited.  Problem dogs that repeatedly bite or injure people can be seized. 

Dogs on leashes can lunge at riders or even break free from their owners.  And as can be seen from the first example above, a dog doesn’t have to be aggressive to be a danger to cyclists (and others).   Riders should make it a habit to be wary of even leashed dogs, warn fellow riders with a loud call of “Dog up!” and attempt not to startle our canine friends.

The leash law is in place to enhance public safety and to keep your dog safe. 

Tom Frady is a Lincoln resident and avid cyclist and driver.