This is not a typical post for me. This has nothing to do with writing. This is a true story.
We have a dog. He’s easily excited and doesn’t always handle his excitement well. We have no idea why. He was a rescue so something in his past must have caused it. All we know is he often has reactions that are inappropriate; barking, growling, and even nipping at people’s clothing to get their attention. He’s a medium-large dog who is a bully breed (often confused for a pit-bull) and has a very dark coat. All of this means that people are often nervous of him and can have bad reactions to his reactions.
I tell you that because it’ll help you get background into the way this story begins. Niko (that’s the dog) and I were out for a walk today. We walk for anywhere from 1-3 miles a day. We do this because it helps him work on his training. When we see people, especially people working with loud equipment, we cross the street. There, from a safe distance, we can practice his command “leave it”. He is supposed to turn his head and literally ignore it.
Today we were about a mile into his walk when we turned onto a street with a construction truck parked on the right hand side about two houses from the end of the road. I crossed to the left hand side, Niko happily walked along without taking notice of the truck. As we drew closer I started hearing banging. So did Niko. “Leave it,” I told him. He turned his head back and kept walking. “Good boy.”
About two house lengths away I noticed a man on the roof of the house, walking toward the front. Now this is interesting to Niko, who has never seen someone walk around on top of a house. He tried to pull in that direction. “Leave it,” I repeated. He threw a look back at me, like “really?” before he turned back to the front and returned to his happy little gait.
About one house length away a man walked from the side of the house toward the construction truck. Niko didn’t even notice him. I pulled my headphone out, just in case. Sometimes people have asked me questions about the dog. We were on the far side of the street, so that’s not likely, but I want to be prepared. Instead, I heard “Why you way over there? You too good for us, Mommy?”
Niko whipped his head in that direction. I felt the low rumble of a growl reverberate through the harness and up the leash. “Leave it,” I commanded. It’s not what I was thinking. What I was thinking was, “if you’re the kind of guy to catcall a random woman on the street in broad daylight then YES I’m way too good for you.” But I kept up with the training even as I picked up speed.
The guy took a step out into the street toward us. “That’s right, tame that beast.”
Niko pulled toward him, growling. “Leave it.” This time I also yanked on the leash. A whole lot of things went through my head in that split second.
- We were close to the end of the road, close to turning that corner. If it were any other day, I could just break into a jog and take off. Niko loves to run and it takes his mind off distractions much better than anything else. But my knee is messed up right now. Jogging would cause me to limp. Limping would show this guy I’m weak right now, he could easily catch me and overpower me.
- There’s no one else on this road right now, but it’s eight o’clock in the morning and surely people are awake. Would someone hear me if I started yelling? Kids are walking to school in this neighborhood. I’ve seen lots of people as we walked today. Surely someone would hear me.
- My hand is on my cell phone. If I need to, I can use it to call the cops. I can use it to take a picture. I have options here.
The guy takes more steps toward us. At this point we have passed the construction house so he’s out in the middle of the road walking in a diagonal toward us. Niko is still paying attention to him. I haven’t given the command again because he’s not pulling and he’s not barking. The growl is still there. I can’t hear it but I can feel it. I realize if this guy decides to come after me, attack me, or catch up to me I have no idea what I will really do. I don’t know that I would continue to give Niko the command. I’m seriously worried. If something really happens, Niko will get blamed because I’m pretty sure there’s no chance he’s going to let this guy attack me.
We get to the corner, cross to the far side of that street, and turn toward home. I continue looking back for the entire half mile to home, but the guy never turns onto this street. Niko calms down as soon as the guy is out of sight, returning to happily walking and sniffing things.
But me? I checked over my shoulder the entire way. Heck, I’m still sitting in front of the window that looks out onto the street to my house. I’m sure I wasn’t followed, I checked that. But these experiences stay with you. It’s not normal. It’s not okay.
The worst part? That guy probably didn’t even register that interaction, not really. As soon as we were out of sight he probably forgot about us (at least I hope so). No, he’s not the worst part. The worst part is there are people reading this right now who think this is no big deal. Nothing happened, they’d say. You were overreacting, they’d say. There are even people who think I’m the bad person here for walking a dog like Niko on a street where there are people.
Yes, nothing happened. Nothing except that I was catcalled in my own neighborhood in broad daylight while out for an innocent walk. I was followed, even if it was only for a short distance. What would’ve happened in that exact same situation without Niko? Did the growling scary looking dog prevent this from being worse? In my gut I know it did. THAT is not okay.
I hate that this is the world we live in. We can do better.