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Dogs not necessarily a bike rider's best friend

Gazette.net: Dogs not necessarily a bike rider's best friend

Awareness events for bike riders, dog bite prevention coincide this week

By Nathan Carrick | Staff Writer

Until last week, Alison Horton never had been chased by a dog while riding her bicycle.

"I was at the dead-end part of Emory Grove Road," she said. "It was a little, white poodley-type dog."

The chase was quick and somewhat less than terrifying, she said. But it still was a surprise.

"I was down the hill and it was over," she said.

Horton, a California native, rides every Tuesday from her home in Gaithersburg to Washington, D.C., where she volunteers with the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.

This week she will have lots of company as WABA and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments put on Bike to Work Week, which culminates with Bike to Work Day on Friday.

The national event is meant to bring awareness to bicycling as an alternative mode of transpiration.

Coincidentally, this also is Dog Bite Prevention Week, intended to raise awareness of how to prevent altercations between man and his best friend.

"Dogs instinctively chase moving objects," said Jim Huband, co-owner of Bark Busters Home Training in Montgomery Village. "The best thing to do is to stand completely still."

More than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs in the United States each year, and one in five bites is serious enough to require medical attention, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"I think we do see more chasing than actual biting," Glen Harrison, WABA's bicycle education program director, said in an e-mail. "First of all, running dogs and bicycles are dangerous — for the cyclist, because the dog will often dodge in front of the cyclist which will cause a serious crash. If the dog is simply running around, the cyclist should slow down and either stop or be prepared to stop immediately."

That's not always possible.

Harrison recommends pointing and telling the dog to "go home," squirting it with a water bottle, or even trying to outrun the dog if there is adequate space.

Liz Ehrstein, Huband's wife, agreed that spraying the dog with water might work, but stopping and putting the bike between you and the dog might be better.

Also, cyclists are urged to stay calm.

"A dog chasing a cyclist doesn't necessarily have aggressive intentions," she said. Dogs do not have the best eyesight and sometimes chase out of curiosity.

"I feel like it usually happens in rural areas," said Henry Mesias, bicycle education coordinator for WABA. "It's one of the hazards of cycling."

But it should not keep anyone off their bike, he said, and in the past it certainly has not.

Started in the early 1970s by WABA, Bike to Work Day has become a national event.

In 2009, more than 1,700 cyclists in Montgomery County checked in at designated pit stops along major commuter routes for breakfast, T-shirts and camaraderie, Mesias said. More cyclists probably rode and never stopped to be counted, he added.

More than 8,000 cyclists were counted in the Washington metro area, and that number is expected to increase by 500 this year.

WABA does not keep statistics on cyclists chased or bitten by dogs.

Dog chases or not, Horton said, the D.C. area is not the most accommodating for cyclists. Challenges include a lack of bike lanes, poor trail connectivity and drivers who do not consider the safety of cyclists.

Bike to Work Week is meant to improve such conditions, Harrison said.

Horton, who rides in all weather, including hail, is not deterred.

"I should be able to ride to Trader Joe's, which is a mile away, without getting killed," she said.



-For information on Bike to Work Week, go to www.waba.org.

-For information on Dog Bite Prevention Week, go to www.cdc.gov.