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Dog walking injuries can be surprisingly common

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Now one of our favorite stories from earlier this year. Those of us who share our lives with dogs have been on a walk at least once when - squirrel. Off they go, pulling you behind like a tin can. That happened on a winter's day in Washington, D.C., to Gina Eppolito when Pemba, her Lab-shepherd mix, began to run.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GINA EPPOLITO: She went to cross the street at a faster pace than I could handle on the ice.

SIMON: Gina was five months pregnant with twins.

EPPOLITO: I fell, slid on the sidewalk, landed on the ice, broke my wrist and also then hit my belly.

SIMON: Gina Eppolito went to the ER. Her babies were fine, but she spent the rest of her pregnancy with her arm in a cast. In fact, a new study from Johns Hopkins University says walking your dog is a very common way to get injured.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Go say hi.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Oh, hi.

SIMON: We went to a dog park in Alexandria, Va., to investigate and throw some balls. Of the 24 people watching their dogs race around like jolly maniacs, two knew others who'd had their arms pulled out of socket walking their dogs. One knew of somebody who'd broken a collarbone. Three had taken tumbles themselves.

JOCELYN COLEMAN: This little scratch here on my knee (laughter) was just from this little guy here.

SIMON: That's Jocelyn Coleman rolling up her pants leg to reveal a 3-inch scab. Her little guy is the majestic chow mix Blaze. Ms. Coleman says she was texting when he saw squirrel.

COLEMAN: He pulls me back, of course. I fall down. I got up, dusted myself off. I was fine.

SIMON: Ms. Coleman says she's the one at fault. Blaze was just doing what dogs do. She's glad her tumble didn't land her in the ER.

RIDGE MAXSON: We found that dog walking-related injuries sent approximately 420,000 adults to United States emergency departments between 2001 and 2020 with an annual average of over 20,000 visits.

SIMON: Ridge Maxson of Johns Hopkins is the lead author of that study looking at dog walking injuries. It shows that adults over 65 and women were particularly vulnerable to getting seriously hurt. But Mr. Maxson says the benefits of dog walking for the owners, like exercise and emotional well-being - who's a good boy? - outweigh the risks. He says just exercise more caution.

MAXSON: We recommend avoiding retractable leashes, as well as using shorter leashes and, most importantly, remaining aware of your surroundings and avoiding distractions for yourself, such as texting while walking, as well as your dog. So that can look like avoiding busy schoolyards or other areas where you know your dog is more likely to get distracted.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG PANTING)

MARK VOSS: Watch out. Don't want to blow out your ACL. That's another way to get injured - just have a dog slam into you while you're standing in the dog park.

SIMON: Back in Alexandria - squirrel - Mark Voss says that his two big hunting dogs pulled him to the ground a few weeks ago in the rain.

VOSS: Actually, I have a little bit of tenderness still in my hip.

SIMON: Mark Voss knows that fall could have been a lot worse, just as he knows Memphis and Maybelline cannot resist a good chase.

VOSS: You know, there may be times where I might have been a little lazy in the past and said, ah...

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

VOSS: That is an awesome hound bark. But I'll be more diligent and vigilant when I'm walking them to make sure that I am looking for any distraction that might make them want to pull, whether it's a dog or a squirrel or a bird, you know, a sasquatch, whatever it is that they're going after. I just have to be very proactive and careful.

SIMON: Our other dog owners say leash training helps keep them on their feet. And their good boys and good girls?

Well, they say, so do those treats.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

VOSS: Got it. Thank you, babes. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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