Since moving to Asheville, people who keep their dogs unleashed in public places, specifically hikes, have become one of the many banes of my existence.
Asheville is imminently dog friendly, with several local travel websites dubbing it Dog City, USA (I couldn’t find any national publications bestowing this moniker upon us, but it’s also early on a Sunday morning as I’m writing this, and honestly, I didn’t Google very hard), and a dog welcome center (that I admittedly never heard of till this morning’s lazy Google-session)—the Washington Post even got their investigative journalism involved with a 2019 article entitled “Does Asheville, N.C. live up to its ‘Dog City, USA’ claim?” that, per my reading at least, doesn’t provide a concrete answer to its titular question. Dogs are everywhere in Asheville. Many of the galleries are dog-friendly, some restaurants are, and almost every brewery more or less teams with dogs.
Before I start my rant, I want to clarify that I am a staunchly pro-dog man. I love dogs. I grew up with two (one of whom I still include in my top ten list of best friends even though she’s a dog who’s been dead since 2010). I will more than likely have a new dog friend this spring. BUT. And this may be controversial. I still believe dogs are dogs. Now, dogs should be cared for and revered, sure, but they are not people. I believe many residents of Asheville are confused about this (see also: the annoying girl you know from college who puts up a “fur parents are parents too” post on mother’s and/or father’s day).
I’m a firm believer that dogs need to be leashed when they are in a public setting. Why? Again, because they are animals, and even if your dog “isn’t like other dogs” or is “really well behaved,” when unleashed, there are 100 other variables that could agitate your animal, or worse, harm your pet.
One of my favorite, lesser-known, Asheville-area hikes is the Trombatore Trail, a 5-mile roundtrip walk through the woods to a gorgeous mountain top meadow out on Route A74 on the way to Chimney Rock (the trailhead is directly across the road from the much more popular Bearwallow Mountain). Trombatore Trail isn’t difficult, but features a steep down, then up (then down, and up again on your way back) that makes it a solid workout, and although you’ll for sure pass other hikers on the trail, I’ve always had the end-meadow to myself, which is rarer than you’d think in these tourist-filled mountains.
I’ve also never been on the Trombatore Trail, where an unleashed dog hasn’t materialized out of a trail bend and approached me. Sometimes they just walk up and sniff. But twice, they’ve jumped up on me, and both times when the owners then materialized a minute or so later, they laughed and said some version of “oh, he’s so goofy.” Again, I like dogs. I’ll often ask dog owners if I could pet them. But I think it’s grossly presumptuous for pet owners to assume I want their animal jumping all over me. What if I was terrified of dogs? What if I had my own leashed dog that didn’t get along well with other animals? What if I simply was having a bad day and didn’t feel like a dog jumping on me? It’s not cute. It’s not funny. It’s irresponsible at best and rude at worst.
My brother and I recently completed a road trip out west. We met in Salt Lake City and drove across Nevada’s Highway 50 to Yosemite—highly recommended. He’d been down visiting over Labor Day, and I know I gave him my unleashed dog rant then, opining that it was awful in Asheville.
One of the trip’s highlights was our hike to Fifth Water Hot Springs, a hot river spring, that like Trombatore Trail, is a 5-mile round trip, not terribly demanding hike (in this case, following a very picturesque creek made even more dramatic by striking fall foliage). We didn’t stay in the hot pools very long. They were borderline scalding, which may have felt relaxing on a cold winter day, but isn’t ideal for 80 and sunny. There was a woman there with a young, unleashed German Shepard. She was in the pool, and the dog was on the well-behaved side to start, essentially sleeping on the water’s edge, but the longer we stayed, the more restless the dog got. The woman had to keep getting out of the pool to chase it—at one point, the dog saw a family it must’ve liked and started following them further up the trail. We both thought that the dog must’ve hated its owner, based on how often it didn’t listen to her, the fact that she was making it sit on the side of the spring while she performatively soaked in increasingly yoga-influencer style poses, and the general disdain on the dog’s face. I resurrected my leash-your-dog rant.
After the hike, Shawn and I had a late lunch of jerky, protein bars, and dried fruit at the trailhead parking lot before we got on the road. While we were eating, the woman and her dog returned from the spring and got into her camper van. The camper van had North Carolina plates, and her bumper was adorned with a Highland Brewery sticker.