Dog Leash Dangers: Blindness, Amputations Blamed on Retractable Dog Leads

Worldwise declined to comment specifically on the Williams lawsuit, but issued a statement that reads, "We at Worldwise care very much about all of our customers and their pets and are committed to providing them with products that are safe, reliable and functional. On Sept. 3, 2008 we initiated a voluntary recall on our Sly Dog retractable leash. We worked closely with the CPSC and followed their guidelines regarding proper notification of the recall."

Dollar General also declined to comment on Dereka's injury, citing pending litigation, but released a statement that said, in part, "We stand firmly behind the quality of the products we sell in our stores. More than a billion customers a year shop our stores for high-quality products. On the occasion that one of them finds a problem with his purchase, appropriate action is taken immediately. "

Heed Warnings, Use Carefully

Some manufacturers of retractable leashes have gone so far as to print warning labels on the leashes and packaging. One company, Flexi USA, has an entire Web page devoted to dos and don'ts along with a list of potential injuries.

The company, which distributes a variety of leashes manufactured by the German-based company Flexi, recommends not using the retractable leads around infants or children and even using gloves and wearing long pants to prevent injuries.

Ulrich Wuebker, president of Flexi USA, Inc., told in an e-mailed statement that despite the negative press, retractable leashes do have merit and are used happily and without injury by millions of pet owners.

"Dogs love them," Wuebker said. "They enjoy a little bit of freedom, but the pet parent still has them leashed. Pet parents love them because they allow their dog a little extra space to be a dog. They can sniff around and do their business."

If owners use the correct leash for their dog and use it properly, he said, Flexi leashes are safe.

"Like other products, Flexi brand retractable leashes can be misused," Wuebker said in the e-mail. "The warnings and instructions are included in and on our packaging as well as on the leash itself. This is to educate the dog owner so that they will use the leash in a safe manner."

Losing a Finger

Heather Todd lost a portion of her left index finger in a Flexi retractable leash accident in 2005. Her yellow Labrador retriever, Penny, was hooked to a friend's retractable leash when the dog became excited. The 90-pound dog bolted after something and Todd said she lost control of the handle, which caused to cord to burn her arm. When she instinctively tried to brush the cord off her arm, Todd said her finger got caught and she was pulled to the ground and dragged for four or five feet.

"I look up and there's a finger tip right in front of me," she said, adding that she was in such shock she at first thought the finger was a child's Halloween-type toy. "I didn't comprehend, 'Oh, Heather, there's your fingertip laying there in the sand.'"

Todd ended up settling with Flexi out of court. Neither Todd nor Flexi would comment on the settlement details, but Wuebker told via e-mail that because Todd borrowed the leash from another person, she didn't have the benefit of being able to reach the warnings and safety instructions.

"Also, her dog was too big for the leash and had behavioral problems," he said.

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