To leash or not to leash? Traverse City dog owners differ on what's ok

Feb 3, 2021

On a cloudy Sunday at the Pelizzari Natural Area in Peninsula Township, Wendy Dorman jogs with her dog Daisy. On this run, Daisy is on a leash but sometimes Dorman lets her run wild. 

The trailhead parking lot at Pelizzari Natural Area has often been packed with cars during the pandemic as people look to spend more time outdoors.
Credit Sam Augusta

“I come into the parking lot, I see how many cars are there and that’s how I determine whether or not I’m going to let her off,” she says.

“Today, the parking lot is full, so, no, we didn’t go off leash. It’s more fun off-leash, of course, and it’s getting busier here, so I haven’t been able to do it very often lately.

Daisy, is a poodle mix and isn’t menacing. But other breeds can be more intimidating. Sometimes they can jump up on kids or they might even bite.

Kelly Reynolds lives in Traverse City with Tucker, a cattle dog mix. She says if she comes to a trailhead parking lot that’s full she’ll drive to another one.

“Because sure enough, if the trailhead is packed … there’s going to be people with dogs off-leash,” explains Reynolds.

A section of the trail at Pelizzari Natural Area in Peninsula Township.
Credit Sam Augusta

She says it can be really nerve wracking meeting an off-leash dog. Tucker often feels threatened when another dog surprises him.

On a recent outing, another dog came bounding up to them. Reynolds grabbed Tucker and put herself between the two dogs.

“I said, ‘Please grab your dog, please leash your dog.’ And he said ‘Oh, well my dog’s friendly, it’s okay.’ I said ‘Yes, but mine’s not.’”

She says the man then yelled at her and asked her why she brought her “unfriendly” dog to a public place.

“My dog is perfectly friendly if another dog isn’t rushing up to him,” Reynolds replied. “That sign at the trailhead says dogs must be on a leash, it doesn’t say dogs must be friendly.”

Not only do dogs occasionally get into tussles with each other, but sometimes the owners do too, says Grand Traverse County Animal Control Supervisor Jamie Croel.

“That does happen a lot in the parks, they do tend to get into confrontations over the situation.”

Croel says unleashed dogs are Grand Traverse County Animal Control’s number one problem.

“That’s probably 75% of what we do,” she says, “is dogs running at large for whatever reason, whether they’re attended by their owner or whether they’re not.” 

Michigan has a leash law. Any dog that’s off their property and not on a leash is technically breaking that law. Hunting and working dogs are an exception. If an unleashed dog is caught, the owners could face a fine.

“Those are set by the courts,” says Croel “but usually around $120 is the initial violation.”

Emily and Pieter Sheridan of Traverse City walk with their dog Birdy. They’ve found a solution that gives them and their dog the best of both worlds.

“We have a stupid long leash ... for her so she can be ahead of us,” says Pieter. 

“But we still have control,” adds Emily.