Photo by Salt Water New England

Monday, June 12, 2017

How To Get Your Cardio and Kill Your Dog on the Same Hot Summer Day: An Essay by Michael Rowe

The Author's Dog, Beckett

Editor's Note: As it is heating up, this is a timely reminder.  This guest-post by Michael Rowe was originally published in SWNE last year.  Encouragingly, this essay was subsequently picked up by the Huffington Post where it was shared widely.  Feel free to share this on Facebook using the button below.

I was closer to murder this evening than I generally care to be.

I live in a leafy enclave of a major city. It's a hip neighbourhood—a nice mix of progressive, well-educated young couples, retirees, and a smattering of young families. In the winter, kids and their parents toboggan on a nearby hill. There are two beautiful parks that are always full. It's a nice community full of nice people, for the most part.

Most everyone has dogs. We're a dog neighbourhood.

The temperature had been rising all day, peaking at over 77ºF, which is unusual in May, but not surprising considering that, worldwide, April 2016 was the hottest April in recorded history.

Beckett, my Labrador, was panting more than usual. His black fur was unusually warm from the sun, so we walked slowly, in the shade and at his pace, not mine. I walked him on grass, wherever possible, to keep his feet cool. I was sweating under my straw hat, eager to get Beckett home where it was cool.

Suddenly, from behind us, came the jangling of chains and the pounding of feet.

A woman lurched past in jogging gear, dragging two dogs behind her. One of the dogs was wearing a pinch collar. The woman, whom I've seen before, scowled at the ground as she ran. I could hear music blasting from her headphones. She was oblivious to her dogs gasping in the heat as she thundered past.

I called after her to tell her to slow down, that it was too hot for her dogs to be running that fast, but she didn't—or wouldn't—hear me, and she was soon out of sight.

The early summer heat was suddenly more oppressive than ever; the scent of cut green grass became nauseatingly sweet. I couldn't get the sight of the senior dachshund with the tiny legs, trying desperately to keep up as the collar bit into his neck, out of my mind.

By the time I got home, I was shaking with rage.

As awful as this scene was, I'd seen versions of it before—not just with this particular woman, but also with other people, the kind of people for whom a dog is either another item to be checked off on a multitask list, or an accessory, or a fashion statement.

There's a man in the neighbourhood with a year-old Rottweiler whom he forces to run alongside him on his bicycle, again wearing a pinch collar. I see joggers pulling their dogs behind expensive strollers as their owners prattle on headsets, their minds anywhere but in the now. There are muscle bros with pit bulls and mastiffs on chains almost as heavy as the ones the men wear as they power along the streets in the heat, flexing and sweating, hyperconscious of the virile, macho image they think they're projecting, using their dog to intimidate and impress.

Most of the time it's just annoying. When the mercury rises, it's murderous.

To these people—including my neighbours in our nice, progressive, leafy enclave, and indeed dog owners everywhere—I have a message for you: if you want to get your cardio and kill your dog at the same time this summer, this is how it's done.

In fact, you're already doing it.

When people call you on forcing your dog to over-exert in the heat, you tell them, Oh, he loves to run! Look at him! It's his favourite time of the day!

Actually, anytime your dog gets to be with you it's "his favourite time of the day."

Your dog loves you. He'll do anything to please you, including running himself to death beside you along pavement hot enough to fry an egg.

He'll run until trying to keep up with your bike causes his core body temperature to hit 109ºF and he begins to die. As you jerk the leash attached to his collar and snap at him to "keep up," he'll wonder what he did to deserve this punishment. You can be certain his very last thoughts, before he goes into the agonizing, fatal convulsions of heat stroke, will be of his guilt at not being able to please you by running fast enough.

The people who don't call you on it are not ambivalent about what they see. They're also not afraid of you. What they're afraid of is that, after you tell them to mind their own business, that your dog is your property and you'll do what you want with it, you'll take your embarrassment out on the dog in some dreadful way. Maybe by cycling, or running, faster to show you don't care what anyone thinks.

Or something worse later, when you're out of sight.

Those of us who do call you on it, the ones who politely, urgently try to reason with you, who beg you to walk your dog beside your bike because it's one of those searing days when the air shimmers, and breathing is hard enough from a human-height, let alone at pavement-height, those of us who beg you to get you dog into the shade, who beg you to give it water—we're not looking down on you; we're not trying to start a fight, or shame you. We don't automatically think you're evil.

We just don't want you to kill your dog by accident.

That said, when our pleas fall on deaf ears, when you ignore us, or berate us, and cycle or jog away, this is what we're thinking: we're picturing you with a metal pinch collar biting into your neck, gagged, dressed in an airtight neoprene wetsuit under a fur coat, being dragged barefoot across the pavement behind a fast-moving bike on hottest day of the summer. We're wondering how long you'd last without water.

We're thinking maybe then you'd understand what you're doing to your dog.

The difference is, unlike you, we'd never dream of being so cruel to anyone—or anything—that couldn't beg us, for pity's sake, to stop.

© 2016 Michael Rowe. All rights reserved.

Michael Rowe was born in Ottawa and has lived in Beirut, Havana, Geneva, and Paris. An award-winning journalist and essayist, his second novel Wild Fell was a finalist for the 2013 Shirley Jackson Award. He welcomes readers at

Beckett and Michael Rowe. Photographs in this entry were provided by the author.
See also: Life, Measured Out In Labradors: An Essay by Michael Rowe

Michael Rowe's Second Book:


  1. I find violence abhorrent, but this is one subject that can send my Irish right through the top of my head. And I can clearly relate to the very first line of this article. I have little use for people who care more about their image and/or their ego than about their supposedly beloved pet. This article is well-written and should be passed on as a reminder to everyone that dogs should not be jogging in this heat. A simple, slow walk in cool grass around the yard is sufficient for them in very hot weather. Thanks for the article, Muffy, and let's all be advocates for our best friends who don't have a voice.

  2. Thank you for posting this. I have seen this, too. :(

    Here in New England we unfortunately have many low air quality alerts when it gets hot. In fact I just checked and there is one active now:

    "The Maine department of environmental protection recommends that
    individuals consider limiting strenuous outdoor physical activity
    to reduce the risk of adverse health effects. People who may be
    especially sensitive to the effects of elevated levels of
    pollutants include the very Young, the elderly and those with pre-
    existing respiratory problems such as asthma and or heart disease."

    I would think that would affect pets, too.

    I'm going to share this post.

  3. I enjoyed the essay and it is a good reminder for those of us with dogs. My Newfoundland was born for the cold but not the heat. I do find it amusing, however, that the author notes, twice, that the neighborhood where this took place is "progressive," as though we should all be doubly surprised that progressives are capable of harming their dogs. Conservatives, sure, they'd intentionally harm their dog, they're mean people who hate animals afterall! But "progressives"? Surely they would know better! LOL.

  4. Just yesterday, I heard a dog barking as I left my car to shop. Never gave it a thought, but as I returned to my car 30 minutes later, a policeman was waiting for the driver to return to the car, the dog had been left in a car with temperatures well into the 90s. Doesn't matter where it happens or who inhabits the area, we should be aware and speak up to animal cruelty. Thank you for the reminder.

  5. I wish every dog owner would read Michael Rowe's exceptional essay. I am not very patient with ignorant pet owners and have, on more than one occasion, spoke up for the welfare of a 'loved' pet. All shelters, rescue groups, and veternarians should give this essay to pet owners.

  6. I fully agree with this article and felt the need to share it on FB - than you for speaking up on a very important subject and making it so easy to share with so many others. You really do need to look carefully at you dog while outside, in hot or cold weather, and decide what is best for him/her, not just for you.

  7. Agree 100%! And, for the love of your dog, stop driving with them on your lap, unless you'd like to see how much of your dog remains after an airbag deployment.

  8. We have a well behaved, well mannered totally untrained Brittany that sets the pace for what we do. I sometimes think of an old WLS radio promo "Will it be hot, cold, rain, snow..." that has stuck in my head as a reminder of how the elements come into play when living with a four legged family member.

  9. Our big dog is a Great Pyrenees mix and minds the heat a great deal. We are very sensitive to his needs. Our Chihuahua on the other hand, loves the heat, but she is 14 now, so we don't let her indulge in it like she used to. When you have pets you must absolutely be sensitive to their needs. If people cannot do that, then they should not have them. --Holly in PA

    1. My sister has 2 Great Pyrenees on her farm. This time of year, they are often to be found in the pond, with only their heads showing above water. After their dip, they usually retire to the barn until late afternoon.

  10. A timely and much needed reminder. Well said, Michael Rowe! We have two Weimaraners that we have to watch so they don't get sun burned due to their short hair. Also, we have another hunting variety that was scheduled for a test, after his field training program, on the hottest day of the summer last year. The organizers did not cancel the test and consequently, our 2 year old, who hates the heat, performed poorly. We were so discouraged by this heartless act that we reneged on future involvement with this so-called professional organization.

  11. An eloquent reminder. What the devil is in these people's heads when the do things like this?

  12. I did share Michael Rowe's timely article on Facebook. I confess I made this mistake when I was walking my female Australian Kelpie (Jill) in Fort Collins, Colorado. It was a beautiful day, yet eventually someone brought to my attention that my dog's pads were hurting from the heat of the hot sidewalk. I thanked them for making me aware of it, and Jill and I headed home (walking on grass as much as possible). I loved this dog, and would never intentionally hurt her. I cried thinking that my ignorance caused her so much pain. Believe me, it never happened again.

    1. It's interesting that you bring up your dog's pads as I believe many people don't consider their sensitivity. Something I learned early on with our dogs is walking them on winter roads, that have been treated with salt and other chemicals, can also be harmful to their pads. We use a paw protection wax called Musher's which is for extreme weather conditions including hot sidewalks. This is a good alternative to covering the paws with uncomfortable boots.

    2. Respect is given for your willingness to admit your error, which we all have done from time to time. You loved your pet, but you didn't know, but then took appropriate steps when it was called to your attention. Kudos to you.

  13. Sort of a metaphor for how way too many people treat their fellow human beings and their environment.

  14. Thank you for posting Mr. Rowe's excellant article, Muffy.

    I too have witnessed dogs being treated as anything other than " man's and wowan's best friend. "

    I've seen dogs being run in stifling heat or locked in cars while their owner is shopping or socializing.

    I was about to call the police on one occasion, but the owner returned from his errand. I commented the day was hot enough to kill a dog while looking at the parched pooch. The guy gave me a quizzical expression, smirked and continued on his way.

  15. Excellent piece! I won't even take my dog out in my car when it's over a certain temperature because I know the heat affects her way more than it does me. People just amaze me at how they treat their pets. It's beyond my comprehension.