Safety Concerns associated with Dogs along Trails and Pathways

While a small number of parks and trails prohibit dogs altogether, the overwhelming majority permit dogs in some form or another, with certain limitations. Where dogs are allowed, it is typically under the condition that the dog’s owner will adhere to leashing, permit, vaccination, and other dog-related restrictions and/or regulations. With so many pathways, trails, and parks that are currently open, scheduled to open, or set for future construction, in and around the Chicago area, the attorneys of Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. have concerns over the risks that dogs present to the persons that occupy these multi-use spaces.

Chicagoland’s pathways, trails and parks are quickly becoming an intricate network of connected areas that serve a variety of purposes and welcome a diverse range of users. Although some provide separate areas for specific persons or uses (i.e. fenced off-leash dog parks; pedestrian-cyclist lane divisions; picnic/playground areas), we are essentially all just sharing common spaces, as well as access-ways that provide ingress and egress to specific areas. As injury lawyers, we see several safety hazards that can arise by adding dogs into the mix of what is already a varied amalgamation of persons.

The most obvious threat is of course the potential for increased rates of dog bites and dog attacks. However, dogs can also present additional dangers that many do not consider. In example, where an unleashed dog roams onto a bikepath and causes a cyclist to swerve in avoidance of striking the animal, which then causes them to fall, strike an object, or collide with a pedestrian, oncoming bicyclist, child, or another dog. Dogs can also contribute to the spread of fungal, bacterial, and parasitical disease/infection in both humans and other dogs when owners fail to clean up after their dogs, obtain required vaccinations, as well as take other preventative measures even though not required by law (i.e. heartworm/parasite prevention).

The key to preventing dog-related incidents resides primarily in responsible pet ownership. In the very least, this requires compliance with the law, as well as the owner’s ability to maintain control of the dog at all times. Unfortunately, relying on dog owners to both comply with the law and act responsibly, can be a dangerous supposition to live by. Reliance on regulatory enforcement measures, given the mileage and acreage of trails, parks, and paths, is equally dangerous. Enforcing laws and regulations throughout these areas, and in a way that would have a meaningful impact, is next to impossible.

So, if dependence on responsible pet ownership, legal compliance of dog owners and regulatory enforcement, offers little protection to trail, path, and park users, then what can? Well, at least for now, it seems that awareness might be the most effective means of preventing dog-related incidents in these areas. In other words, rely on yourself, while keeping in mind that that unexpected accidents can happen, and animals, by their very nature, can be unpredictable. At the same time, know your legal rights and entitlement to compensation when an incident does occur.

If you, your child, a family member, your dog, or even your personal property were harmed in a park or pathway incident involving a dog that occurred in the Chicago Metro area, give us a call or send us a message online, and let know what happened.