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Retractable Leashes: The Good and The Bad

By Immydog
Just a few years into my veterinary career, I was driving home from work.  It was already dark out.  As I drove down the road, I could see the silhouette of a person standing on a sidewalk appearing to gaze into the road.  In the road, next to the curb, was a silhouette of a large lump.  I could not make out much more than this, but was concerned enough about the scenario to pull over and stop my car. 
I walked back to the unusual scene to discover the human form was a woman, probably in her late 40's, early 50's.  Unfortunately, I also discovered that the lump in the road was a not-quite-full-grown Golden Retriever.  In my proximity, I could also see that the dog was still attached to its leash, and the leash was still held in hand by the dog's owner.  In most situations, maintaining control of the dog by leash is safe.  But this leash was a retractable leash.
Retractable Leashes: The Good and The Bad
The woman was just standing there.  I have no idea how long she had been standing there.  She was definitely in shock.  She was unsure of what she should do.  Cell phones were hardly common at this time (dating myself, I know).  She knew she could not lift this now deceased large dog and carry him all the way home.  Yet she refused to leave him laying in the road.  She just stood there, puzzled and shocked.
I explained who I was, and offered to help her lift the dog into my car so we could take the body back to the veterinary office, and place him in cold storage, giving her time to decide what she would like to do with it.  Some people prefer to bury their pets on their property (not always an easy option with a large dog on the east coast).  Others have their veterinarians take care of the remains.  Still others opt to get the pet cremated and receive the ashes back.
As we moved the body of this ten month old dog,  I was able to get the rest of the story.  The two were walking down the street on the sidewalk, against traffic, as they did every night.  The dog saw a car coming and for some reason decided that this car's headlights were worth chasing.  He had never done this before, or at least was never ABLE to do this before, but tonight he charged after the lights.  The woman thought the lock on the leash was engaged.  Either it was not engaged, or it broke under the force of the dog's charge.  The dog ran straight into the road after its target, still on leash, and was hit by the car and killed instantly.  The driver never stopped.
Retractable leashes are very convenient when used properly.  They should be used away from roads, traffic, or hazards of any kind.  Walk your dog to the park using a regular non-retractable leash.  When you arrive at a place that will safely allow more running space, then you can change over to the retractable leash.  When changing leashes, never remove one leash until the other leash is safely in place.  A choke collar should never be used with a retractable leash as it would maintain tension on the choke collar and defeat the purpose and function of the choke collar and potentially constrict the dog's neck.
Retractable Leashes: The Good and The Bad
The woman came to me several months later with a new puppy.  She became a client after my assistance was offered that night.  She never used the retractable leash while walking on the road again.  It was a tragic accident, but a lesson was learned by both of us that night.  A lesson worth sharing. 
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