A blur of black and white flashes by me, as Shawnee tumbles down the trail through the woods.  Tail wagging, she is in a state of doggie bliss.  So many things to smell, to look at, logs to jump over.  I love the fact that our two dogs have spent so much of their time roaming the forest, having freedom to stop and sniff as they choose.  We’ve never had an issue with them running away, as we call them back, giving them their favorite dog treat.

Contrast that with my life growing up in suburban St. Louis.  Our dogs spent most of their lives either on leash walking the pavement around our neighborhood, or tied out in the backyard.  Our first dog, Bernard, yearned for freedom, vigorously trying to squeeze out the door anytime someone opened it.  Sometimes, he was successful, shooting out into the yard, and zipping off to parts unknown around the neighborhood.  One time, he was gone the entire night, before we found him parked in front of a neighbor’s house who owned a lovely female poodle he coveted.

I’ve noticed the dogs around Nederland and in the mountains lead vigorous, active lives, accompanying their owners on hikes, ski trips, and mountain bike rides.  They seem to thrive in the great outdoors and I’ve often wondered if they live longer because of it.  If it’s good for people to exercise and get outside, surely the same must apply to dogs?

But recent events around our neighborhood have given me pause about not leashing the dogs, even though in a perfect world, it is absolutely my preference.  First, last month, a beautiful labrador retriever was run over on our dirt road by someone who was clearly going way too fast.  Then, two weeks ago, another neighbor had his dog stomped to death by a moose in the vicinity of their house.

I’ve written about my own run-ins with moose on this blog before.  Moose and dogs don’t mix, as moose view dogs as predatorial, because of their similarities to wolves.  And during the last five years, the population and sightings of moose in and around Nederland have soared.

So I’m faced with a dilemma — to leash or not to leash?  We live in the country, and our dogs respond well to voice command.  But I can’t control speeding cars or angry moose.  I took the middle road the last two months, keeping them on leash on the road, but then letting them off on the Forest Service trails (which is perfectly legal).  But the thought of seeing dear Shawnee brutally stomped by a moose is more than I can bear.  Our dogs are our family, and my greatest hope for them is to live as wonderful life as possible until old age claims them.

For those of you who are fellow mountain dwellers and dog owners, what say you?