The Peril and Promise of Flexible (Retractible) Leashes

We all want to give our peppy pooches - and ourselves - more freedom to explore the world together.

I’ve seen bulldogs hanging 10 (well, eight, really) in the sands of Redondo Beach and a pair of Akitas slinging skateboarders along the Venice Boardwalk.

But what my wife ,Susan, and I did not see last Saturday night was an elderly man driving his golf cart while “walking” his 70-pound Golden retriever.

We’d just returned from a romantic Valentine’s dinner and decided to take Lilly, our Boston, for a walk around the gated complex where my folks are renting for the spring. As we swooned at the star-spangled sky, Lilly turned her head to the sound of a vehicle quickly closing in; too soft for a gas-powered car, too loud for a bicycle.

Susan and I turned in unison and caught a peripheral blur of fur galloping toward Lilly and a man, retractible leash in hand, whizzing by on his golf cart. I scooped Lilly up into my arms and spun around to the sound of my wife thumping onto the asphalt. In his exuberant effort to greet Lilly, the tethered Golden had lassoed Susan’s knees and yanked her off the ground. Susan stretched out her arms to break her fall, but landed hard on her tailbone during this impromptu rodeo act.

The driver of the golf cart seemed nice enough. He asked my wife, “Are you okay?” followed immediately by a self-absolving, “I didn’t see you.” (We were toting a high-intensity flashlight.) There was no mistaking the lawyerly display of his concern. As there were no blood, obvious abrasions or broken bones, we got the man’s unit number and he scooted off in his golf cart, dog in tow; STILL on the damn flexible leash. At the time, we were both too stunned to shout out after him: “Didn’t you learn anything from this incident!?!”

Susan got off bruised and sprained, but lucky. A week of Advil and Flexeril and she’ll hopefully be back to bouncing between the kitchen and the craft studio.

Others have not been as fortunate.

Every year, scores of people and animals are injured in accidents involving flexible leashes. Burns, deep lacerations, blindness and even lost digits have resulted from the snap-recoiling action of nylon the cord as it retracts. Many manufacturers enclose warnings and offer suggestions on when to best use their product, but this does not ensure against consumer laziness or disregard.

The flexible leash can be an invaluable training tool under the right circumstances. One training exercise with Lilly involved putting her in a sit-stay, then stepping back from her in gradually-increasing increments until the the leash was fully extended. We repeated the same exercise, increasing the time we spent at each interval before we stepped further back. The impressive distance we were able to achieve between us and Lilly would not have been possible with a standard leash.

Lilly has since mastered the far-flung sit-stay when she’s off-leash (which has made for safer execution of home improvement projects!).

I can envision someday using a flexible leash in a wide-open natural setting (when there is minimal chance of encountering other dogs) to give Lilly access to the well-deserved Smorgasbord of scents she craves.

As far as loping around the neighborhood with Lilly, you’ll never catch me doing something as negligent and stupid as combining flexible-leash doggie cross-fit with motor sports.

Standing on the top rung of a ladder to hang a picture - well, that’s another story . . .