I take Sally for a walk most days, at the nature preserve which was a farm, the meadow has been returned to grassland with wide mown paths. Because there are no trees in the grassland, you can see where everybody is which makes walking and social distancing much easier.
One day last week, we pulled into the parking lot and I after getting everything together. Mask, poop bags, Sally on the leash, we got out.
From the small hill overlooking the entrance to the paths, you can go right or left. Below was an older couple, they must have gotten here just ahead of me. They had two large dogs, on leashes. The woman was having a terrible time with a chocolate standard poodle. Snapping at the dog, and yanking his leash; the dog lunged at something and nearly pulled her off balance. She snapped at him in a chirpy way, yanked him back on the path. “That lady does not know how to control her dog,” I thought and led Sally the other direction.
The day was glorious and once we were in the open, the big long path before us, I took Sally off her leash and she tore off.
You can take the walk as a loop. But several paths cut across the middle making it possible to turn off if you see someone coming, or walk around someone if they’re going slow, or lolling about. Standers, I call them. They only become a problem if they’re on the path ahead of you and you’ve got to negotiate how best to get past.
I had made my way half way around when I noticed a young girl squatting next to the path, looking at some bright yellow flowers. She was 3 or 4, just ahead were two young women walking slowly. From their posture they were clearly looking down at their phones.
I was barreling forward, Sally up ahead of me. You should know that the preserve asks dogs are to be kept on leash, which no one really observes. But if your dog needs to be on a leash, put him on a leash.
One of the young woman heard Sally’s collar and turned around, “Oh hi!” Sally stopped. “She’s skittish,” I said. Sally has the desire to connect, but she’s too afraid. One of the reasons I let her off leash is so she can skirt around everything and everyone. I like to say, “Speed is her superpower.”
Sally and I left the path and made our way around them. I saw then there were two young men a short distance ahead, waiting for the women and the girl to catch up. I took these men to be their husbands. They were wearing masks, as was I. “She’s skittish,” I said again, as Sally stopped to look at them. “She wants to be close to people but she’s not really able.”
“Just like us,” said one of the guys and we all laughed.
“Yes,” I said, “Just like all of us.” And, making our way past them two guys I hollered, “Enjoy your walk!” “You, too!”
And then, here they came: the older couple I had spotted at the start of our walk. The man was walking a sweet old lab. The woman, in her 70s and very slight of frame, was still being dragged by that poodle. Sally and I were in the grass about ten feet off the path and as we passed each other, the poodle lunged off the path and started to go for Sally who darted away. I stopped, the leash was stretched taut, right in front of me, my kneecaps right against it. Woman to my right, dog to my left, making a sort of trip way in front of me
I said, “Could you call your dog, please?”
She yanked, the dog gagged. She was more like someone who couldn’t get a lid off a jar rather than someone who was inconveniencing someone else. The dog kept gagging. Finally she managed to pull the dog back. But nothing was said, not an I’m sorry, or he just wants to play, none of that. Sally and I called back to her, “Curb your dog.”
The woman yelled out to me over her shoulder, “Go home!”
Here in Woodstock that means: I live here and you need to go back to the city with your city ways.
“I live here,” I yelled back.
“So do I,” she yelled. Which seemed like an old comedy routine.
“Well, my dog didn’t go after your dog,” We were having a proper yelling volley now.
“Stop yelling at me,” she yelled back at me. “It’s making me upset.”
If I weren’t upset myself, I would have laughed at this. I stopped and turned back, “Did you not yell at me first?”
“I did not,” she yelled, a bit softer now.
Sally and I went on our way. Was I fuming? Hm, maybe. In my world, the way to respond to your dog lunging at my dog would be to acknowledge your part and apologize. She probably didn’t like me pointing out her inability to control her dog. People don’t like to have their weaknesses pointed out. I know I don’t.
This event with the dogs was a blip. But it made me think about how differently people think about what is proper behavior. And what if your idea of etiquette is based on feeling scared? “Wear your mask!” People are screaming at people in public. Or, “You can’t come in here with a mask!” Maybe we were raised differently. Or, our values are different. Proper etiquette dictates not drawing attention to someone’s poor etiquette. But what if someone not following protocol puts other people’s lives in danger? After writing all this, I realize it’s not a matter of etiquette at all. Maybe the word of the day should be compassion. Or maybe it should be care, as in caring for others, maybe the word should be love, or mutual respect—maybe we can look underneath the manners and behaviors in search for a better way to live together.