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Unnecessary entanglements

Every once in a while an invention comes along that seems quite brilliant, makes life easier for a while then — with more frequent use — turns out to be more trouble than its worth.

Such, I think, is the case with the retractable leash.

After one brush with death — fortunately not my own — and lots of time spent disentangling other pets and my own, I put my retractable leash away more than a year ago, and haven’t used it since.

I had bought it at the recommendation of a friend, but after several uses, the disadvantages (entanglements, rope burns and the flying hockey puck effect) seemed to outweigh the advantages (giving the dog a wee bit more freedom, having my arm nearly jerked off less often.)

Evidence is mounting that retractable leashes — technically illegal in Baltimore, as they extend more than the mandated 8 foot leash maximum — may not be as good an idea as they originally appeared.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has announced one recall of retractable leashes. Last September, 223,000 “Slydog” brand retractable leashes were found to have metal clips that broke and flew off — like the one that struck and became lodged in the eye of Dereka Williams, a Dallas-area girl whose family has filed a lawsuit against Worldwise, Inc., the maker of the SlyDog retractable leash.

“She was like, ‘Mom, I can’t see! I can’t see!'” her mother Joy Williams told ABCNews.com

Slydog has since fixed the problem and changed to plastic clips.

But according to the March 5, 2009 issue of Consumer Reports, retractable leashes — often banned from many dog events — have been causing ongoing injuries for years.

The story recounts what happened to Heather Todd, who borrowed a reretractable leash for her Labrador retriever while visiting a pond near Boston in 2005.

When the 90-pound dog took off running, the cord of the leash looped around Todd’s finger. She was dragged across the sand and realized when she came to a stop that her index finger was lying on the ground next to her.

“It just cut it off like a sharp knife,” the article quotes Todd as saying.

Retractable leashes, according to the article, are responsible for a surprising number of injuries each year, including amputations.

In 2007 there were 16,564 hospital-treated injuries associated with leashes, according to Consumer Union’s analysis of statistics collected by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Of those, about 10.5 percent involved children 10 and younger; 23.5 percent involved injuries to the finger.

While the CPSC’s data does not have a separate category for retractable leashes, the article says that most of the amputations, at least, were caused by retractable leashes, most of which feature a cord as opposed to a wider strap.

The most common injuries reported were burns and cuts, usually sustained when the cord came in contact with skin as it rapidly paid out from the handle of a leash. Others occurred when the cord got wrapped around part of the owner or the dog.

Todd sued the maker of the leash and says the company settled her case for an undisclosed amount.

Retractable-leash makers do put warnings on their products, and on their websites, like one from Germany-based Flexi that mentions the risks of “eye or face injury and cuts, burns, and amputations to your body or the body of another person.”

Some experts say dogs can be harmed by the leashes as well. In addition to some of the same types of injuries people get from them, dogs can suffer neck and back injuries when they are suddenly jerked to a stop when they run out the length of the leash.


Comment from Anne-n-Spencer
Time March 26, 2009 at 10:44 am

Boy, am I grouchy today! I have a novel idea:

1) People could teach their dogs to come when they’re called.
2) They could teach them to “heel” when walking on the street–so that they’re walking the dog instead of the dog walking them.
3) Proceed to save money, fingers, eyes, and other anatomical bits by being able to use a regular old nylon, leather, or chain leash.

City streets are full of dangerous stuff–broken glass, nails, the above-mentioned poop (which may be full of parasites), precarious stacks of construction stuff, and lots of stray traffic. It worries me to see people being dragged down the streets by dogs at the end of this type of leash–since the dog has no idea of what he may be getting into. The idea that 8 feet (or 16 or 24 feet) gives the dog some “freedom” is kind of bogus. It’s still a leash. Makes more sense for people to get a good leash and spend some energy (ahem) lobbying for DOG PARKS.

Comment from Ripley64
Time March 26, 2009 at 2:15 pm

I’ve seen a broken arm and ankle caused by retractable leashes. Still tried one myself, but my dog hates the constant pulling on his neck. Much prefer off-leash running. Thankfully, my city does not (yet) have a leash law.

Comment from dogwordz
Time March 26, 2009 at 11:57 pm

My complaint with retractables is that they’re too easy to break! Within the first year I adopted my beagle, one day as we had pretty much ended our neighborhood walk she tore after a bunny across the street. Pulled apart metal from metal — not so much as a thread from the cord! Luckily, she didn’t have too far to go on her chase, and a neighbor helped me catch her as she “emerged” from a brush thicket with quite a smirk on her face, and no injuries to herself although I’ll never know what happened to the bunny. I had been on the verge of ordering her a harness, which of course I promptly did that same evening. No more retractables for us. End of story.

Besides, too many walkers have no clue how to “rein in” their dogs on a retractable, which leads to entanglement and/or bad manners from one dog to the other, followed by bad manners from one people to another. Grrrr!