Walking the Dog

I don’t have a dog. Which makes walking it a lot easier.
Instead, I interact with the neighborhood dogs. Kind of. I don’t escort them around the local City Park paths. No, what I do is watch out for dog walkers.
My walks are a must if I am to exercise these old bones. Dogs I encounter help me stay alert and fit by providing a different kind of exercise, one that combines awareness, judgment and fear.
The Park has signs posted all over: Dogs Must Be On Leash. Not so unusual since the City’s street ordinances also instruct that Dogs Must Be On Leash.
Evidently this directive applies primarily to all of us who have no dogs. Because for people that do, the signs seem mere suggestions, hints, or worse, simply stopping points so that pets can check their pee mail.
It usually goes like this.  I am walking up a hill, trying to avoid slipping on the ice beneath me and still keep up a good pace. Occasionally I’ll see a few winter sparrows and chickadees that stay around all winter because they have become too lazy to go south, because people feed them tankfuls of sunflower seed….but that is another story altogether.
Then it happens. A brownish mid-size mastiff and his owner appear a few dozen yards ahead of me. Of course the dog is not on a leash. The leash is on the owner, encircling her neck.
The dog sees me, and immediately bounds my way. I stand perfectly still, something I am very good at, having been forced to practice on a daily basis for years, and wait. The dog stops bounding when he reaches me. He bends his thick neck downward and sniffs my gloved hand. Then he growls, a deep-throated growl, assertive but not yet aggressive. I do nothing because I know he is telling me to wait, that soon we will all see how this will work out. The owner is closing in, perhaps 15 feet away, and she laughs, a kind of coy laugh containing embarrassment, dismissiveness and a slight trace of cruelty.
“Don’t worry,” she says, laughing, “he won’t do anything.  He’s perfectly harmless.”
Well, that’s sure comforting. Could have fooled me.  A 100 pound bag of harmless! Although, as I point out to her, “He already has done something.  He growled. And he has his nose on my hand.”
Now she is close to me, which is NOT comforting, because as the distance between us shortens, the dog repositions himself in front of me and growls again, prepared to “intervene” should I try to get too chummy (fat chance) with his mistress.
“Oh,” she laughs. “That’s just Brutus’ way of greeting you. You don’t have to worry.”
I want to blurt out: “What if I want to worry? What if worry is all you have when you’re not armed?  What if worry is the thing that keeps people alive when confronted by forces stronger and bigger than themselves?  Forces like Brutus.”  But I don’t say it. Because Brutus might take offense or she might hate sarcasm and have already trained Brutus to hate those that practice it.
And now comes the important part. Since she does not volunteer to place the leash on Brutus, and since I really doubt she’d be able to “control” Brutus even if she did, but still feeling that I’d be much more comfortable with a leash somewhere between the brute and me, I say: “Would you mind putting his leash on?”
This is the turning point. Either she will or she won’t. Mostly, people equivocate:  “Well there’s really no need, you know.  He’s friendly.”
Friendly to whom? That is the question of the moment. I believe that Brutus is friendly to his mistress. I believe he may even be friendly to other family members and small children and maybe even musicians, but alas alack what reason does he have to be friendly to me?
As calmly as I can, I respond: “I don’t doubt Brutus’ ability to be a friend.  He is probably a good friend to many who know him.  It is not the “friend” part of Brutus that I am worried about. It is the “dog” part.  And of course the long, sharp teeth. And the fact that he’s in much better shape than I am.”
She laughs, but to my relief, also begins to slip the leash around the hound’s neck. “You know,” she says, “you really ought to have someone look at this irrational fear of dogs you have.”
“Lots of people already do,” I say, “mostly dog owners who have a fear of following a simple city statute about walking their dogs ON A LEASH.” Brutus growls when I raise my voice.
But it’s okay, now, because I am already back on my walk, heading for the next rise in the path and the pit bull on the other side of it.

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