Nothing to lose but your leash

  • Tim Hauserman


On a gorgeous sunny morning at a cross-country ski area on the California-Nevada border, the parking lot was full. So why was I the only one skiing while marveling at the deep blue waters of Lake Tahoe? The hut at the end of the trail sat lonely in the sun, waiting for skiers. Had everyone disappeared into a vortex?  Were they all in the lodge eating chocolate chip cookies?

Eventually I uncovered the sad truth: The cars in the parking lot were not driven by independent, free people, but by slaves to their dogs. Since the blue and special green trails were the only trails where the dog masters allow their slaves to ski with them, the dog slaves were tethered to their masters, skiing around and around on just these two short trails until the dogs had had enough.

To further humiliate their slaves, the dog masters were defecating freely on the trail, yet always expecting the slave to pick it up, put it in a plastic bag, and carry it around with them for several more hours while they skied. Watching these poor souls is almost more than one can bear.

Kowtowing to the needs of their masters on a clear, sunny day was difficult enough, but imagine the horrors the slaves face on a rainy day with lots of thunder and lightning. While more considerate bosses might give their workers the day off, the cruelest dog masters require their slaves to take them out for a run no matter how nasty the weather conditions. Often you will see the slaves, huddled in the rain and soaked to the bone, assuring you as they pass that they're doing it "for the dog."

The cruelty of slavery is not just a winter phenomena. I have a dog-slave friend who, before she was captured into servitude, hiked the entire Appalachian Trail as well as the Tahoe Rim Trail. Then she moved to Las Vegas, Nev., and tears welled up in her eyes when I told her about the great hiking in nearby Death Valley. She said she knew it would be wonderful to hike the quiet canyons of red, brown and gold, or walk barefoot on sand dunes, but since Sage, her master, wasn't allowed in the national park, she couldn't go.

In addition to picking up poop, dog bosses require their slaves to feed them expensive food, keep them warm on special beds and pay for any medical expenses that come their way. Slaves have also come to expect to visit special stores that provide for any whim their masters may come up with -- bones that clean teeth, pull toys that squeak, doggie candy of red and green -- all manner of costly treats. Dog slaves have even been forced to give up vacations for which they have saved money for years, because they must spend thousands of dollars instead to provide their doggie master with surgery for whatever body part fails them.

Feeling compassion for the desperate situation of the dog slaves, I began to wonder why no nonprofit organization had been created for their release. Since there are efforts to help earthquake victims in Asia or flood victims in Europe, surely someone ought to help the millions of dog slaves right here in America.

But in yet another demonstration of how amazingly cunning the dog masters are, many have brainwashed their slaves into believing that they are the ones in control. They have come to believe that they enjoy being dragged out of their warm homes on cold mornings to take the dog for walks, and of course, pick up their poop. They just shake their head and smile when they have to open and close the back door 50 times a day to let the masters in and out. The slaves even post pictures on Facebook of their dog bosses frolicking in the snow or retrieving balls, while all the other dog slaves leave comments about how cute they look.

In an attempt to help these people escape the ruthless mind control of their masters, I have taken the plunge, organizing the Freedom Initiative for Dog Owners (FIDO). I know there are relatively few among us who have not succumbed to a punitive dog relationship; that is why I'm asking for your support. With your help, FIDO will organize interventions to free these poor slaves, so that they might finally return to a life free of canine worship.

Tim Hauserman is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( He lives and writes and does not own a dog in Tahoe City, California. He also teaches skiing at the Tahoe Cross-Country Ski Area.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at

Robb Cadwell
Robb Cadwell
Feb 09, 2012 06:56 AM
At the expense of not being humorous I'd like to put in my plug for wildlife.

Late winter and early spring is a time of heightened vulnerability for large ungulates. Deer, elk, and moose, are all existing on their reserves of energy stored up from last year and any contact with canines, even domestic ones, can deplete the calories they need for survival. The snow is deep and animals can't eat enough food.

Young calf elk and deer not yet one year old are usually the first to succumb. If there is one time a year you can recreate without taking your best friend, now might be a good time. Ski resorts are great but please not the backcountry.

My apologies Tim for a slight lapse of seriousness, nothing brings a smile to my face more than seeing someone stoop over to gather warm dog poop. ;-)
Stephanie Paige Ogburn
Stephanie Paige Ogburn Subscriber
Feb 09, 2012 12:45 PM
A comment on this thread has been deleted because it violated our comments policy. Please refrain from name-calling and profanity in your comments. Thank you,

Stephanie Paige Ogburn, online editor.
Feb 09, 2012 12:47 PM
Oh, and to reply to Rob's comment. Unfortunately, mule deer are not abundant in the Tahoe Basin. Part of that problem is due to past land-uses and the lack of suitable deer habitat (i.e. we've created dense stands of low diversity forests). In some areas outside of the Basin there are fawning seasonal restrictions that include no motor vehicle access and no dogs. Countless wildlife studies have found that humans disturb wild animals too. Of course, there's still a significant increase in the level of disturbance between a human and a crazy canine running loss. That's were leash laws can be useful in limiting disturbances to wildlife. And this will only work if proper outreach and signage efforts are implemented.
Ed Quillen
Ed Quillen Subscriber
Feb 09, 2012 05:27 PM
Perhaps this can be construed as another example of canine tyranny over humans. About two years ago, I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. My caregiver, a wonderful nurse practitioner, prescribed some pills, advised on a new diet, and told me "Ed, you should go out walking for 30 to 60 minutes a day."
    Now, I'm pretty good and blowing stuff off. I could find excuses to stay inside and ignore the nurse. But the dog is an excellent nag. If it gets to 3 p.m. and we haven't been out yet that day, he scurries around and softly whines and makes the house generally intolerable.
    Thus to some degree I may be getting bossed around by the dog master. But it's for my own good.
Lynn M Emerick
Lynn M Emerick Subscriber
Feb 13, 2012 09:22 AM
Hear, hear, amen. We have been accosted by free-running dogs in national recreation areas (where unfortunately allowed) and wilderness areas (where not allowed in that unit), as well as on local trails, Lake Superior beaches, etc. And not all dog owners do clean up after their chosen one. No wildlife to be seen there either. When approached (gently) many dog owners are downright hostile that their pet (child?) has been criticized. Can telling we are feeling grumpy about our encounters in the wild, but Tim's essay helps!
Cynthia Tuell
Cynthia Tuell
Feb 14, 2012 03:37 PM
I have a dog and yes, I miss hiking in national parks and California state parks. Yes, I have to think about my dog every day, her need for exercise and food and fresh air. It's kind of like having a kid or a spouse or a dear friend with special needs--that is, it's worth it.
Don L Watson
Don L Watson
Feb 14, 2012 04:03 PM
Very humorous in a dog-biting way. I am one who is a proponent of dog (teams) in wilderness, and have seen a number of companion dogs on canoe trips in the BWCAW that were an asset to the trips. Of course, I can also think of a couple local ski trails that people's dogs have trashed with their fecal matter as there are people who turn the the other way when their dogs poop. These same people are often the ones who just use the trails but I never see them volunteer for trail maintenance, nor do they display trail pass identification.
I wonder if the author Tom Hauserman is a city-bred cat person, as he sure lacks any appreciation for canines.
The Taylors
The Taylors Subscriber
Feb 15, 2012 12:32 PM
it was a cold, drizzling october night hiking into the reavis ranch in the superstition mountain range east of phoenix, to pick a load of apples. we got a late start on the hiking trail as my (then) new son in law got off of phx fire dept duty at 8am. he was hiking and leading my pack horse. i was hiking and leading my blm adopted burro. we knew we couldn't make it all the way to reavis ranch before total dark so we had to pull off the trail about 2/3 way in. we were at about 4700 ft elevation, drizzling rain and we were chilled. we discovered the duffel bag with the sleep bags and the tent had fallen off on the trail! that night we slept under sweaty saddle blankets and saddle pads and the two of us hugged my 3 heeler dogs like you would not believe! life then and everyday is a joy with canines. tim you must be a city slicker with no sense of the value and utility of canines, equines.......
Tim Hauserman
Tim Hauserman
Feb 17, 2012 09:21 PM
Love the city slicker comment. Actually have lived my whole life in the Sierra, except for those years in college and grad school in college towns.
Robb Cadwell
Robb Cadwell
Feb 18, 2012 06:35 AM
Indeed, most seasoned outdoor folk can hike in the dark and tie on a load such that it doesn't fall off. Might be best to leave the animals until one is able to take care of oneself.