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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

Unrestrained Dog Nearly Causes Tragedy at the Tour de France

In terms of sporting events, France has had a very busy couple of weeks with the French Open (tennis) and now the 100th anniversary of the Tour de France (cycling). 

Typically, the French Open yields very little to report from the perspective of animals, but for an occasional bird landing on court to temporarily delay the match, but recently, there was a potentially more serious incident that occurred at the Tour de France. An unrestrained dog wandered out into the race route a short distance from the finish line of Stage 2 of the event and was nearly struck by a group of oncoming cyclists.

To add to the suspense, the owner then dashed out into the cyclists’ path to retrieve his dog only to see his canine companion turn and run to safety on the opposite side of the road. Both owner and dog almost caused a massive accident and barely escaped being “hit-by-bikes.”

The dog appears to be a light-colored (white or tan), long-tailed, small breed or mixed breed (terrier, Chihuahua, other), in good body condition, and able to move in an agile manner. Additionally, he apparently lacked any restraint with a leash that would have otherwise prevented the entire debacle from occurring.

The remarkable video can been seen on USA Today Sports: A Dog Nearly Caused a Massive Crash at the Tour de France

“It’s not a headwind we are dealing with, but a tailwind,” quipped NBC Sports commentator Steve Porino as he made some light of the situation.

Evidently, this wasn’t the first time an unrestrained canine has been involved in an cycling incident at the Tour de France. There were two other incidents where larger dogs (appearing to be chocolate and yellow Labrador Retrievers) were each hit by bikers, which can be seen in the following YouTube videos:

Tour de France Stage 9 Dog Crash

2007 Tour de France - Rider hits a dog, again!

It’s quite likely that these incidents of canine/human trauma and the recent near miss would have been avoided if the dogs were appropriately restrained by their owners. All of the dogs in these circumstances were off leash. Even if they were on leash, the ability for a dog to move away from its owner via a retractable lead could have similarly contributed to disaster.

I live in West Hollywood, where government has led the way in California for enacting local pet laws (e.g., banning declaw procedures and the sale of pets in stores). Unfortunately, a law banning the use of retractable leads didn’t quite pass in 2005 when West Hollywood attempted to create such an ordinance (see City Council Lashes Out At Leashes).

Fortunately, Los Angeles county already has a similar statute:

10.32.010 Dogs — Running at large prohibited

No person owning or having charge, care, custody or control of any dog shall cause, permit or allow the same to be or to run at large upon any highway, street, lane, alley, court or other public place, or upon any private property or premises other than those of the person owning or having charge, care, custody or control of such dog, in the unincorporated area of the county of Los Angeles, unless such dog be restrained by a substantial chain or leash not exceeding six feet in length and is in the charge, care, custody or control of a competent person.

I’m definitely not a fan of leashes that permit a dog to move beyond six feet away from its owner, including retractable leads. As compared to a flat fabric or chain-link leash (both non-retractable), the retractable lead reduces control of a dog’s mobility. These leads are typically composed of a strong, thin, circular or flat cord, which can cause severe tissue damage to an undeserving human or animal victim.

My clients and I have suffered personal injury as a result of irresponsible use of retractable leads by dog owners who neglected to employ adequate control over their crazy canines. One of my clients lost a finger, and I experienced a second degree burn across my arm after our respective limbs became ensnared in the lead. While on a retractable lead, a canine patient of mine walked some distance ahead of his owner on a West Hollywood sidewalk, was abruptly startled, then fell between two cars and fractured a leg.

A component of the problem is the “competent person,” as a responsible dog owner certainly can keep a dog under control while on a retractable lead at a length of less than six feet. Unfortunately, there are many irresponsible owners using the retractable leads in a less than responsible way who create problems for the public at large.

Although I’m pleased to learn that the dog and person involved with the 2013 Tour de France incident were unharmed, the lesson of proper pet restraint resonates loud and true.

Have you or your pets ever been injured as a result of lack of proper animal restraint?  Feel free to share your story in the comments section.

Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Image: Thinkstock

Comments  7

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  • 07/09/2013 04:47pm

    As we have had family in North American cycling races and have friends who race professionally in Europe, we definitely appreciate the idea that some people care what happens when pets aren't restrained. One friend in Europe has had serious accidents that cause hospital stays more than once due to carelessness of others.

    There is always the chance that a much beloved pet could be mortally wounded in one of the faster races, too.

    Thanks for posting this Dr Mahaney

  • 07/27/2013 05:32am

    Thank you for sharing your personal experience regarding safety practices around activities like bicycling (as pertains to both pets and people).
    Hopefully, with common sense and proper planning, both cyclists and their fans (including pets) can have a trauma-free outing.
    Dr. PM

  • unleashed dogs
    07/09/2013 05:37pm

    I live in California in an area that has plenty of trails and open space. There are signs everywhere: "Keep your dog on leash." Unfortunately, most people completely disregard the signs. I walk dogs for people and have a very well-trained sheltie of my own with who I compete in obedience classes. I ALWAYS have the dogs I am walking leashed. Even my sheltie, who would never WANT to wander away alone and has a dependable recall, is never off leash when out walking because you can never know what might happen. Unfortunately, we have encountered ill-behaved unleashed dogs far too many times; they run up, try to pounce on my dog, and when he reacts negatively, the owners act as if it is MY fault. They always say, "My dog is friendly." I was walking 3 miniature poodles one day when a man let his large German Shepherd come running toward them and he was saying, of course, "She's friendly." Well the little black poodle isn't, she growled, and it got very ugly. The owner ended up shoving his dog with a walking stick to get her away from the little dogs I was walking.

    My sheltie is rather nervous and too many negative encounters with off-leash dogs is really bad for him. I have to avoid some nice walks just to prevent such encounters.

    On the other side, I walk a young German Shepherd. He is a good dog and learning quite well, but I do not want strange, loose dogs running up at him. If one of them sent him bad signals, there could be a very ugly dogfight.

    I have a theory that people let their off leash for a couple of different reasons. The first is that they are lazy and do not want to walk briskly enough or far enough to provide appropriate exercise. The other issue is that some people consider it "unnatural." They do not consider all the awful things that can happen, such as the dog suddenly running into a road and getting hit (I have seen this happen) or a small dog running off into the brush and getting taken by a coyote. (Happened to a little terrier here a couple of years ago.)

    I have to admit that I get really tired of the people who are breaking the rules giving ME dirty looks and saying nasty things when my dog is leashed and minding his own business and their dog invades his space and causes the problem. (Actually, the problem is caused by the humans.) Leashes are a good thing. Use them. Walk briskly, get some exercise and keep you dog safe.

  • 07/27/2013 05:37am

    Thank you for sharing your perspective. It is great to hear that there are responsible people like you out there in the pet care providing world.
    Whenever I take my dog, Cardiff, hiking on to Los Angeles' many trails I always keep him on lead. Like you, I have experienced the horrific consequences of having one's canine companion bound into the bushes and encounter something undesirable. In my case, I have had to treat snakebites or lacerations from tree/bush limbs that came from unleashed activity.
    Certainly having one's pet on leash for exercise should be a motivating factor to get people up and moving, which can help to counteract the overriding epidemic of obesity that is affecting the United States' (and likely the world's) population.
    I hope to hear from you again on my PetMD Daily Vet page.
    Dr. PM

  • 07/09/2013 05:41pm

    I thought that I was the only one with concerns about retractable leashes. They seem poorly conceived - 'burns', tripping, tangling etc., as you mentioned.
    I also cringe when I see some poor little dog get jerked toward their oblivious owner by a simple twitch of the thumb. My dog and I move almost as one when we're out and about, or going for a run, in part because he knows how much slack he has, and it doesn't change arbitrarily.
    (It also seems that, at least for smaller dogs - mine is 20 lbs.- harnesses are usually the way to go. Even a fairly gentle correction using a collar could put undue stress on their little necks, imo. I've seen people lift their dogs up by the neck with a leash and collar, thinking nothing of it. Disturbing.)

  • Retractable Leashes
    07/09/2013 09:25pm

    When driving and I see someone with a dog on a retractable leash, I always use extra caution because usually the dog has enough lead to run into the road. Who knows if the human's reflexes are fast enough to keep it from happening? And even if they do, the jolt to the dog would be horrible.

  • 07/27/2013 05:39am

    It's great that you are savvy enough of a driver and pet owner to consider the consequences associated with seeing a person walk a dog on an extendable leash while you're driving.
    Hopefully, those that are less than responsible and let their dog walk ahead on an extendable leash will ultimately learn before the dog incurs potentially irreversible trauma.
    Dr. PM

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