Sunday, January 02, 2005

Respect for the hours

There's a thing in the parks of NYC called "off leash hours". In most parks from 9pm to 9am you can let your dog run off leash as long as he or she is "in your control".

I am very much in favor of these. I am even in favor of people who would like to extend off leash hours, particularly in the winter time. It's good for dogs, it's good for owners, it's good for everyone, really, since more people in the park makes for better safety.

However, my dog and I can't use the off leash rule. Emily is a wonderful dog, I couldn't love her more and she's been the perfect intro to dog ownership. But, she's got some issues.

When I got her she'd already been trained a bit. She knew to sit, she knew inside vs. outside to some extent, and she knew stay. It was the stay part that killed her. My friend found her staying obediently on a stoop. For over 16 hours. In the pouring rain. By the time she came home she had nothing in her stomach but the Power Bar a good samaritan had used to try and bribe her into a car. It didn't work, she wolfed it down and belly crawled back up the stoop to stay. She was also scared and shy and weirdly smart. Scared of dogs and people and doors and cars and rolling gates and some types of bedding. She ate so fast that the back end of her body would start to vomit but she had body and will of steel so the front end just kept swallowing until it had conquered. The house dog, Oscar, was the first dog she could stand. He was a bright, bouncy, border collie mix who completely modified his behavior to win her over. He finally lay down in the back yard totally still until she got curious enough to poke him in the neck with her nose. Then he'd chase her and she'd run and then she'd freak and he'd stop and try the whole game over again. As a result I have a dog who loves people more than anything but puts up this stragely aggressive front with a lot of other dogs. It used to be occasional. Then more frequent. Now she can't be off leash anywhere that she might run into other dogs we haven't already gotten to know REALLY well. Other dogs just don't understand that poke in the neck thing and other owners get downright crazy about it. She's never bitten anyone or harmed anyone of any species in any way at all. But once the growling and snarling starts I don't really get a chance to explain that. I don't think the dogs would understand even if I could.

So, she doesn't take part in off leash hours anymore. I still think she should get some grass under her feet every day. I also think that other dogs should too. And if they can do that off leash they definitely should be able to. Which means that I do my best to restrict our park time to on leash hours. It seems fair, 12 hours each and most of the 12 hours I've got to use are at times when it's not life threatening to be in the park. Which can't be said for the off leash hours. I'm happy to do it this way.

Some people? Some of the people whose dogs CAN do off leash hours? Don't think it's a fine trade. So, I've waited until after off leash hours are over and I head to the park to toodle around and get some grass or mud or snow under the pooch's feet and spend my afternoon dodging people blatantly ignoring the rule. I've had conversations with some of these people and others I can just see it in their eyes.

"My dog is fine, he won't hurt you."

It's not YOUR dog I'm worried about. The nightmare scenario that I see is my dog getting a little wigged, raising her hackles, maybe giving a well-meaning poke to your saintly dog and he takes it the wrong way. The next thing we know my dog is sitting at my feet, confused as Larry's other brother Darryl, waiting for me to remove the dog from her face. My girl leads with her face, too, the only times she's been bitten it's been on or near her eyes. I don't want to be scraping her eyeball off the bottom of the basin of the dog fountain after Saint Barks a Lot spits it back out.

So, if you see some of us - because it's an us, I see us all over the park, owners with the well peeled eyes watching for dogs on and off leash that wander into our path because their owners know that their dogs are nothing to worry about - walking with our leashed dogs, maybe running a little, maybe kicking a ball no farther than the reach of the extendable leash, could you please extend us the courtesy that we've extended you? Put your dog on a leash. It's on leash hours, after all, I wouldn't expect the same courtesy if it was off leash hours. Help me out.

Help my girl out. Please?

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