Stay Safe Walking Your Pets
Here are some tips for walking after dark.
Autumn is possibly my favorite season. I love the smells and flavors of the season; apples, pumpkins, and then of course all of the autumn holidays. I’m an especially big fan of going out in the cooler weather for long walks with my dogs. Unfortunately, the cooler weather comes with shorter hours of daylight and this time of year more often than not I’m most often walking my dogs in the dark.
I live in NYC and am not the kind of person, who is easily spooked, but as someone, whose gender is read as woman in the world, I’m not unfamiliar with catcalling and street based sexist harassment from men. I’m the kind of femme who is often read as a dyke and so the street based harassment I receive (on a regular basis) from men in my neighborhood can just as easily be sexual harassing or homophobic. If it weren’t for sharing my life with dogs I probably wouldn’t often find myself outside after dark.
Just a couple of weeks ago I was sexually harassed by a man who wouldn’t stop talking about my tattoos, and my body, and what he wanted to do to me—all this while I was just around the block from my apartment giving my dogs the chance to potty. The experience was far from unusual, but it did get me thinking again about what it means to walk in the world as a femme, and to have dogs who of course need to be walked, and strategies that I’ve adopted to keep myself safe while walking my dogs.
Here are some tips I utilize for staying safe when walking my dogs at night:
Stay Aware of your surroundings.
I like to think that having my dogs with me keeps me safe when I’m out at night but I try not to get lured into a false sense of security. I always feel like the best thing that I can do is to be aware of my surroundings in order to keep my dogs and I safe when we’re outside in the dark.
Put the phone away/No headphones.
It can be fun to listen to music while you’re walking your dog, or to be distracted by phone alerts, but I advise to keep your phone in your pocket or purse while out walking. It can be so easy to get distracted by phones but they can keep us from being as aware of what’s happening around us which can lead to us finding ourselves in potentially unsafe situations. Being plugged into our phones while out on walks, can also keep distracted from really enjoying the time we have with our dogs
Tell someone where you are.
I try to always make sure that my partner knows where I am when I’m walking my dogs. Especially if I’m walking the dogs at night, and if ze’s out of town I try to have a friend act as my emergency contact while I’m out walking the dogs at night so that someone knows if we don’t make it home safely.
Whenever possible I try to walk with my dogs after dark with my partner or with a friend. I think numbers and not being alone when walking your dogs in parks and other places is best.
Walk in familiar areas.
In the early mornings, or at night, I try to only walk my dogs in areas that I’m familiar with. I like to be in areas that I know well. I like to be familiar with the streets/parks/ neighborhoods we walk in so that if I get a bad feeling about something I can adjust our route and be familiar with where I am.
Trust Your Dog.
If I get a bad feeling when I’m walking my dogs I try to trust my gut, but more than my gut, I really trust my dogs. If my dogs get anxious or nervous about an approaching stranger, or a particular area I trust them and I get us out of there. I’m not always sure what makes them uncomfortable.
As queer women, we all make our own decisions about what makes us feel safe and comfortable out in the world. For example I don’t carry mace, though I know many other lesbians who do. None of my above advice is universal and there are great women and queer self-defense courses available in many cities around the country.