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My friend and I were trying Free Willy (5.11a) at Animal World in Boulder Canyon, Colorado. He was going for the redpoint. I was belaying. Neither of us were solid at the grade at the time, so success was not guaranteed and whippers were probable. Animal World is usually crowded, but this day was especially packed. To make matters worse, several groups had brought off-leash pets. My partner was nearing the crux when an off-leash dog and an off-leash cat started fighting between me and the wall on the ledge. The owners didn’t think this was a big deal and were slow to break it up, then didn’t even apologize. The whole time I was worried that my partner would come off, then the rope would yank me up and I’d smash both animals.
—Rob Sage, Colorado
Look, Rob. Don’t go to a crag called “Animal World” if you don’t want to belay around cats and dogs. What did you expect? It’s literally the name of the crag.
(Obviously that’s not true. I couldn’t help it. The irony was too much.)
James Lucas covered this topic pretty well in his column Peaches Preaches: Why Pets Don’t Belong at the Crag—Ever, but I’ll attempt to elaborate further.
I always see the same argument when climbers debate crag pets. It boils down to something like this: “Crag pets aren’t a problem, poorly behaved crag pets are a problem.” And I get it—I’m a dog owner. Some pets are well behaved. They like being outside. The owners like having them around. But it’s never a good idea to bring an animal to a perpetually crowded crag. Even well-behaved animals lack the situational awareness necessary for them to be safe in that environment. A dog/cat/hamster, can’t know that they’re below a boulderer. They can’t know that they’re following smells beneath a route with a lot of loose rock. They don’t understand that lead belayers can be pulled off the ground. Crags are full of hazards that animals aren’t able to identify and navigate on their own, so they shouldn’t be there unattended. If you have to bring your chinchilla or llama or whatever, it should be on a leash tied up in a safe area, away from the wall.
All that said, the pets in Rob’s submission were not well behaved—and let’s be honest, most pet owners don’t realize when their pets are poorly behaved. The owners of these animals need to understand that they’re responsible for the behavior of their animals. If your dog interferes with someone’s belaying—which means the dog is interfering with that party’s safety—then you have caused that interference by bringing the dog and letting it get into that situation. Would you wrestle another human between a lead belayer and the wall? I doubt it. So don’t let your cat or dog do it.
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