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  • Jan Flynn

The Wrong End of the Leash

I love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand. — Charles Schultz

Actually, I like the vast majority of people. And I love dogs. But some people, combined with some dogs, are a severe challenge to my better nature.

I live in a densely populated neighborhood where many of my neighbors are elderly. That’s hardly objectionable; I’m no spring chicken myself. Many of these folks have dogs, and in theory, that’s great. Dogs are wonderful, life-affirming companions, generous with their unconditional love and forgiving of our faults. My husband and I have a dog, Molly, who is a treasured family member.

But among my senior neighbors is a proliferation of little fur demons who yap and snarl and twist around on their hapless owners’ leashes at the sight of another canine, practically frothing at their tiny mouths in their desire to get free and chew on an ankle.

We walk Molly twice daily. One of the things we love about our neighborhood is that once we reach its perimeter there is a large open space full of vineyards and open meadows with a broad gravel path. Here Molly and other local dogs can be let off leash to roam and sniff and make their daily deposits. There is a strict code of honor among the dog walkers: if your pet isn’t well-trained to voice commands it must be kept on a leash; carefully manage all doggie introductions; never fail to pick up poop.

But to get there, we have to traverse our development, which means running a gamut of psychotic, shrieking little Fidos who fling themselves at windows if they’re inside and, if outside, storm their fences or struggle to escape their owners’ tentative control, yapping with miniature savagery the whole time.

I don’t blame the dogs. A number of them, I have learned, were gifts from well-meaning adult children to relieve their superannuated parents’ isolation, or perhaps to relieve said children’s guilt. Either way, the intention is fine with me. The problem is that some of these dogs come from puppy mills that churn out wholly unsocialized little critters who arrive with a host of hidden physical and emotional issues.

Another problem is that the recipients of these puppies have zero knowledge or experience with training or managing a dog. And the smaller the dog, the larger the assumption is that li’l cutems never, ever needs correction. There is one lady who likes to walk her wee beastie to the community mailroom and tie it up outside on a nice long lead. While she’s inside checking for letters, her dog spends its time barking in frantic rage, rushing to the extreme end of its tether in hopes of biting anything that gets within range.

“Oh, he’s just playing,” the lady once said to my husband as he narrowly avoided its snapping, calf-high jaws.

As annoying as this is, it’s understandable. To the dear old folks who own them, these little monsters are their closest friends and constant companions. At home, little Fluffy is no doubt affectionate and cuddly, and it’s a lot to ask of someone in their eighties or nineties to go to the considerable trouble of cultivating a well-behaved pooch. I feel rather sorry for the doggies themselves, who clearly aren’t very happy about the world outside their houses, which they seem to regard as one giant affront.

What chaps my hide are the people — thankfully, very few of them — who assume it’s everyone’s obligation to make smooth the path for their horrid little leash lice. I encountered one such woman this week.

It was threatening rain, so instead of hiking out to the vineyard, I took Molly down to the corner where there is an empty lot. Molly is a polite, quiet, utterly inoffensive animal. She’s well-trained to the point where she knows not to enter a kitchen or stare at us while we’re eating, and she’s so naturally considerate that she thinks it’s bad form to poop while she’s still on the leash, even though we’ve tried to convince her otherwise. When we reached the empty lot, I followed our usual procedure of having her sit and stay while I removed her lead chain and then gave her the okay to go and do her thing.

Molly dutifully trotted off to one edge of the lot — she faithfully remains within its perimeter — and was in the midst of relieving herself when That Woman emerged from around the corner on the path that runs along the edge of the lot opposite the street. I’d heard her approach before she appeared, because her little white toy Samoyed, or whatever it is, was loudly freaking out, gyrating on its pink leather halter like the Warner Bros. version of the Tasmanian Devil.

The woman halted where she was, looking at me pointedly as her dog yapped and snarled. Perhaps, I thought, it felt threatened by an untethered dog.

“How about if I put her on her leash?” I offered as I moved toward Molly. Molly, who had finished her business, sat quietly as I looped the lead chain over her head.

“Yes, please,” said That Woman over her dog’s shrieking, which hadn’t lessened its ferocity now that Molly was hooked up. “She should always be on a leash.”

I felt my blood pressure rise, but I chose to make light of the situation. “She refuses to poop while she’s on a leash,” I said with a smile as I bent to collect Molly’s production in my doggie bag.

That Woman stayed where she was. “I’m sure she would eventually,” she said, the tone of her opinion outdoing the nastiness of her dog.

My smile broadened and grew toothy. “We clean up,” I assured her, as I did just that.

“That’s really not the issue,” she said, standing her ground with her deafening, weaponized pup. I stood there, Molly sitting patiently next to me, and looked at That Woman questioningly. I was no longer smiling.

“I’m going that way,” explained TW, indicating that her intended path would take her past me and my dog. Clearly, she required further accommodation on my part.

Wordlessly, I led my dog to the opposite end of the lot, as far from her and her beast as we could get without yielding ground utterly and denying Molly the rest of her morning break. TW marched off, an expression of pained judgment on her face, as her dog’s barks reverberated all the way down the formerly quiet block.

And then I let Molly back off her leash. Some battles aren’t worth fighting. Be as judgy as you want, lady, you and your little dog too.

But now you’re in my blog post. So there.

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