Polar Opposite Reactions

The girls - Meadow & Maia - minding their own business. (Aug 2010)

There are days when I want to take the dogs and run away again to the mountains of Idaho. To get away from people. It's bad enough that when I run with Finn on Kirkland city sidewalks in the morning, we're risking our lives because drivers refuse to approach intersections and crosswalks with caution, or look both ways before proceeding. Sort of takes all the fun out of running. For me, at least. I try to shrug it off, as Finn does, but it's a struggle.

Perhaps even worse are the occasional encounters with the crazed owners of other, poorly socialized dogs. When it's a small dog snarly and lunging at us, I laugh inwardly and think Death by Malamute. But when it's a large dog, I worry that the owner will lose control of it and we'll be charged and possibly attacked. Maia's too old and weak to survive such an encounter.

Recently a new tenant with a large northern breed-mix dog - likely a husky-shepherd - moved into the apartment complex next door. As we go out our dead-end access road to the other residential streets in the area, my dogs and I must go past this complex. What caught my attention was the new dog's aggressive growl toward the girls whenever it saw us (not in itself unusual - we get growled at by about 70% of the dogs we see on our walks; long ago I realized that because the girls look like wolves, and there are two of them lots of dogs and people have an instinctive negative fear reaction to us), and the fact that the woman didn't use a leash when they were in their complex parking area. I've watched her closely: once as she noticed me approaching with the girls on leash she quickly enticed her dog into her car, another time she dashed back toward her apartment as a way of getting her dog to follow her without a leash.

Not good signs. Clearly the woman - about 40 - was concerned her dog would charge us. Maia has been attacked by large dogs enough in the past that she's now reactive to all new big dogs; small dogs and all puppies are fine because she doesn't feel threatened. 

I resolve to be very wary about this new dog in the neighborhood, because clearly the woman is clueless about local dog etiquette and leash laws. She's the worse sort of dog guardian - too confident in her ability to control her dog off leash regardless of the circumstances. No dog's recall is 100% reliable.

I take the girls for a quick stroll just before dark. As we return up our access road, Maia steps onto the grass area near the apartment complex garbage dumpster to do her business. Just as she finishes but before I can pick up after her, I see a woman with a bag of garbage in one hand and a pizza box in the other heading toward the dumpster. I can't see behind her because of shrubs, but sense this is the woman with the dog, and worry the dog will be off leash.

Within a second, I see the dog following her. Off leash. The dog sees us and growls.

"Control your dog, please," I say loudly as I quickly pull the girls away and uphill along the road toward my own town home complex. The tone of my voice alarms the girls, who turn to see what the threat is. Maia sees the dog and immediately tenses. I get several yards away and stop, waiting for the woman to put her dog on leash and deposit her trash in the dumpster before going back to clean up Maia's poop.

Upon hearing my request, the woman - hands full - turns to look for her dog, then bends down awkwardly to grab its harness with the hand that still contains the pizza box. She doesn't put down all the crap she's carrying. Dog sort of in hand, she looks up and yells at me, "What's your problem? Do you have a problem? Clearly you have a problem. What's your problem?"

Oh dear. One of those angry people who, rather than being reassuring that they will control their dog, or apologizing for not already having the dog on leash, lashes out in anger - even as the girls and I are retreating a safe distance so she can go where she's trying to go. She's making the situation a hundred times worse. Drama Queen.

"Your dog growled at us; I have a very old dog here, and I don't want any problems," I respond calmly but forcefully, still walking a few feet uphill. 

"You don't know my dog," the woman yells again, with real force and anger. "My dog's fine. She's on leash. You don't know my dog; you're obviously ignorant about dogs." She then disappears behind some shrubs as she approaches the dumpster.

Knowing it's idiotic to argue with an idiot - especially one who so willingly lies, since I can clearly see her dog is not on leash - I simply ignore her angry comments. By this point the girls are sitting in front of me, focused on me as I feed them treats to keep them from making eye contact with the woman or her dog, which would only escalate the situation. I have no confidence that she'll put a leash on her dog - she may not even have on with her. I know from experience that anyone who reacts with such quick anger at an innocent request to put their dog on leash has heard that before, has had problems with their dog in the past. Just like their dog's growl, they assume the fear-aggressive posture of attacking the innocent party, thinking they're deflecting blame from themselves.

Still, I want to be a good citizen and clean up after Maia. So I wait, safely up the road.

The woman - garbage gone, one hand on dog's harness but still no leash in sight - reappears and starts walking toward us. 

"Don't come closer," I say, worried about where this is going. How crazy is this woman? I'm also done being polite and ending my sentences with please.

I continue handing treats to the girls while keeping one eye on the woman and her dog. She turns abruptly, heads back toward the dumpster and I lose sight of her and her dog again. This is puzzling. Suddenly, she's back in the road, facing me, hand on her dog's harness.

"I just want to apologize," she says. This is a surprise; I wasn't expecting such an about face. "I can see your dogs are well-behaved. I just want to apologize. Not now, but maybe sometime our dogs can meet."

Not in a million years, I think to myself. I say nothing. I don't want to interfere with her change of attitude.

"Well, I just want to apologize," she says, then starts to walk away with her dog.

"Thank you," is all I say to her retreating back. I really don't want to even acknowledge her apology, but out of politeness I do. 

After several steps, she slows and finally attaches a leash to her dog's harness. I guess she felt attaching it during the confrontation would have been an admission of guilt. She heads off on what was clearly her original plan of taking her dog for a walk. Cleaning up Maia's poop - finally - and depositing it into the dumpster, the girls and I head home. The ugly, unnecessary scene keeps playing in my head the rest of the night.

I expect there will be another confrontation if/when the woman sees us out walking and asks to let the dogs meet. I will decline, of course. Politely, but firmly. That ship sailed long ago; Maia especially will never accept that dog after what occurred this day, and I don't think the woman's dog wants to be friends anyway. Certainly I'll never accept that woman; why would I want to have even the barest of nodding acquaintances with someone so angry, confrontational and inconsiderate? She will likely react to my refusal just as she did tonight - with an outburst of indignation. She can't accept that not all dogs have to like all other dogs, and not all people have to like all other people. 


Luckily, that negative experience was soon followed by a very positive one. Polar opposites. I'm happy to report that positive encounters far outnumber and outweigh the crazy and negative ones. 

Less than a day later, the girls and I are walking on the sidewalk of a busy street in Kirkland. It's mid-afternoon. Up ahead, I see a city employee using a large, noisy push-mower to cut the grass and weeds along the sidewalk and in a small adjacent wetlands area beyond a chain link fence. She sees us approaching, turns off the mower, and pushes it off the sidewalk through a gate in the fence to give us plenty of space to get by.

I'm impressed by her thoughtfulness. Cars rush close by us on the street so there's nowhere but the sidewalk to safely walk.

As we near, the employee comes to the gate, smiling big. She's tall and wiry, her dark blond hair pulled into a thick braided knot that sits just below the band on the baseball cap she's wearing. Her face is tanned from working outside. Her teeth gleam white, giving her a happy, warm smile.

"Would you like to say hello?" I ask, addressing the unspoken question I see in her eyes as she takes in the girls.

"Yes!" she replies. Walking right up to the girls, she pulls off her work gloves. Her lower arms are covered with tattoos, which for some reason surprises me. The girls sniff her hands. The woman puts one hand on each girl's head and pets them, sinking her fingers into Meadow's especially long and fluffy fur. "So soft, so soft...," she murmurs.

Maia signals her desire to keep moving. The woman thanks me for stopping to let her meet the girls. I almost tell her how thankful I am to her, for counterbalancing the previous negative encounter, but decide it would take too long to explain. 

"You're very welcome," I say as the girls pull me away.

"Have a great day!" I hear from behind me. I will, I think, realizing that while I can't control people like the crazy, angry woman with the big dog, I can control how I react to them. 

As the girls and I continue our walk, I smile inwardly, resolving to ignore the bad and reward the good. Works with dogs, works with people. I make up excuses for the crazy woman, allowing myself to believe that maybe she just had a really bad day and will never be so thoughtless and mean again.

Nah. I don't really believe that. But it feels better to me to give her an excuse than to dwell on her meanness. It's my way of ignoring her bad behavior.