I was devastated when the news on television last night announced the death of a Toronto man and his two dogs when they were hit by a train. The man was walking along a train track in mid-town when one of his dogs ran onto the track. He jumped into the path of an oncoming train to try to grab the dog. His second dog followed behind him. The man and one of the dogs were killed instantly, the second dog was put down later on when it was determined its injuries were too serious.

The police that the various news reporters talked to cited trespassing as the main cause of the accident. The tracks are fenced off, but many people clip holes in the chain link fences to allow access to either cross the tracks or to walk alongside them. This isn’t unusual, it happens everywhere – we have a train track nearby and people constantly hop the fence to save themselves the extra two minutes it would take them to walk to the same spot via the streets. And until it was fenced off, many people in the neighbourhood with dogs, us included, would walk along the service road that ran alongside the tracks.

But while this is indeed a dangerous practice – it’s not what got them all killed. What got that man and his two dogs killed was not having them on a leash.

I don’t care how well-behaved or well-trained your dog is – it is not safe to let them off leash anywhere outside of your own private, fenced yard or a fenced off-leash area of a park designated for that purpose. I’m astounded at what can only be called the stupidity of so many people.

We live in a building where many tenants have dogs. It’s partially why we chose this building. But many of the people do not bother to leash their dogs at all, assuming that their dog will come when called. Often, they don’t.

If the dog is larger and more aggressive (seriously, are there no sensible pit bull owners out there?), then I’m forced to have to try to control my own dogs while fending off some dickhead’s macho mutt. And if it’s a small dog, I have to worry about whether it will get hurt if I give my dogs some slack and let them play. Because you know damn well that if one of my dogs got into an altercation with someone’s purse puppy, I’d be the one standing behind the “defendant” podium at small claims court, even if they were at fault for illegally allowing their dog off leash.

Keeping dogs leashed just saves so many headaches – it’s kept us from getting skunked on more occasions than I can count; kept both of my dogs from getting hit by cars; and probably keeps them a lot healthier overall, just because it’s easier to stop them from eating crap off the road (a curse on all the assholes who eat take-out chicken wings and toss the bones onto the sidewalk).

My two dogs are always leashed outside of our apartment. Occasionally I let them walk down the hall from the elevator leash-free, but it’s a treat, not an everyday occurrence, and happens only if there’s no one else in the hallway.

By nature, dogs hunt and sniff around and explore, but domesticated dogs are not the same as wild dogs. And even well-trained dogs sometimes have a mind of their own. I feel terrible for that man and his two animals, but I’m angry as well – it didn’t have to happen, and if he had been a more responsible dog owner, they’d all be alive today.