I wasn’t much of a dog person until I met my wife. I’m not the SabreDog, you know! Since becoming the owner of two lovely canines, though, I have endeavored to be a good dog-parent to the best of my abilities. I’ve learned basic training techniques, picked up quite a bit of knowledge about doggie health and nutrition, and can answer “what kind of dog is that?” regarding our breeds to at least the level of detail you’d find in a casual breed reference book. And I always, always clean up after my dogs when we’re out walking—I endeavor to leave places better than I found them, grabbing up cigarette butts or other trash while I’m at it.
But there’s a street in my neighborhood with several residents who are weirdly twitchy about dog poop. Twice I have had people shout at me to pick up after my dog, when there wasn’t anything to pick up; I’m guessing they saw our Menchi peeing and mistook her squat for something more substantial. And this past weekend, when I was in the very process of picking up after Watson, an older gent stopped his truck in the middle of the street to ask me why I couldn’t just walk my dogs in their own yard. Annoyed and nonplussed, I responded, “So they can get some exercise.” Which is self-evident to anyone who owns a non-sedentary dog in an urban setting, of course. Unless you’re fortunate enough to have a dog park within walking distance of your house or apartment, it is unavoidable that your dogs eliminate in some public or private space not your own. Unless, of course, you are willing to sacrifice your dogs’ well-being for the sake of the local dogphobes’ sensibilities. Which is why city ordinances don’t forbid dogs pooping outside their home turf, they simply require that you clean up after them.
That wasn’t enough for truck guy, though. He pulled in down the street (I think he was doing some work on a sidewalk?), such that I ended up passing him again on my way back home. He called out at me again, requesting “a civil word,” which I declined. He proceeded to berate me from across the street, urging me to consider where I got the “entitlement” to take my dogs to do their business outside of my own property.
I didn’t say anything else at that point, but I felt the deepest anger I have in a very long time. Not even the rancorous Internet dramas I’ve occasionally (to my discredit) gotten into over the last couple of years rank up there.
I’m sure a more resilient soul would have shaken their head and thought little more of it, but the incident stuck with me for days afterward. Do I give in to the unpleasantness and avoid that street? Or stand firm, refusing to be bullied when I’ve done nothing wrong? I had a new source of nervousness whenever a vehicle passed me and the dogs: would it be another heckler, unable to mind their own business?
It makes me shudder to think, then, of what that’s like for folks facing deeper bigotry than dog-hate. Someone walking on the “wrong” street while a woman, or black, or trans, faces not just random censure for their law-abiding behavior, but challenges to their right to be there at all, or to so much as exist. As unpleasant as the situation was, I had no reason to fear for my life from this random crank; if I were marginalized in one of those ways, that could be a very real concern.
Self-righteousness never makes the world around it better. What then to do in the face of it? I don’t even know.