I’ve written a number of posts over the short life of EMP about my evolving relationship with the Erie Canal, which I’ve gotten to know primarily through daily walks with my dog. Indeed, if it weren’t for my dog, Macey, and her seemingly endless energy, and hence her need for extended walks, I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have ventured along the canal a third of the times I’ve walked it over the past two and half years. Many of the pictures of the canal I’ve posted here contain images of the happy hound roaming the trails off leash. For most of Macey’s 13 years, we have let her walk off leash both in dog parks and people parks. I have picked up a leash-law ticket here and there (Wisconsin, Connecticut, and maybe elsewhere), but she has never been in a confrontation with other dogs or people (or cars) that has led me to think her or others’ safety was in jeopardy. I hasten to note that I do monitor her closely when she’s off leash, typically hooking her up when I see other dog owners with their dogs leashed, and I almost always leash her when a lot of people are around (especially bikers and joggers, who seem to get particularly miffed when they have to dodge a dog). But over the last three weeks, I’ve found that I can’t win the leash situation no matter what I do, as the two following incidents illustrate.
The first incident occurred on a daily morning walk just before the end of 2010. As I squatted down to pick up Macey’s shit, while Macey ran freely in the snow about fifteen yards away from me, I saw a jogger approaching me a ways down the path. I recognized instantly it was the sixty-something with whom I exchanged words last winter about having my dog off leash on the canal trail. That exchange was brief, maybe a minute, and basically went down like this: From behind me, I was startled one early winter morning to hear some guy yell at me three times, “Restrain your dog!” I spun around, and saw this short, winded (from jogging), oldish guy standing about three feet from me. I snapped back, “Uh, no. Why don’t you just keep running. My dog’s not interested in you.” “You know what you are?” he asked, and then answered,”An asshole!” I was shaking my head in disbelief at this point, a bit wild-eyed from being knocked so aggressively out of what is normally a peaceful morning walk through the snow along the canal. Now pissed, I said, “Listen, there’s no way in hell I’m leashing my dog for you, and I suggest you move on before this escalates any further.” And he moved on. That was about a year ago. When I saw this guy about three weeks ago, even at fifty or more yards away, I knew I was in for an unpleasant experience. While I tied up the bag of shit I had just collected, I kept my back to the guy, hoping he’d run past me sans confrontation. Just when I realized that he should have reached me at that point, I hear the guy, right behind me, almost piggyback, yelling at me, “CALL YOUR DOG!” To which, I said, trying to be calm, “What would you like me to call her?” He quickly said, “Leash your fucking dog, you asshole.” And he stepped right up under my chin, and said it again. “Leash your fucking dog, you asshole.” I couldn’t help but think that this guy is standing so very close to me, closer than anyone has apart from my wife, in many years. Because he was also about the same height as my wife, a good foot shorter than I am, the whole scene struck me as somewhat surreal and sort of comical. He was very red in the face, from running I’m sure, but also from getting angry. His whole whole persona oozed anger. He was good at being angry. I told him, like I did the year before, that I’d never leash my dog for him, that my dog is utterly uninterested in him, and that he should back up. And, when it seemed like he was going to push me, I angrily snapped, “Don’t touch me, little man. Keep running.” He backed up, didn’t touch me, and then went on a rant. He told me that I apparently didn’t realize where I was, and that his son-in-law is the deputy mayor or some such “authority” and he’d have me arrested. I suggested he call his son-in-law, and ask him to post some leash law signs, if that’s the law on the this part of the canal. He said, “You’re a fucking immature asshole. You need to grow up, fucker. You remind me of my sixteen year old son.” And then he ran away. I stood there feeling flabbergasted and unnecessarily attacked. Macey kept sniffing around the snowbanks, apparently oblivious to the shouting (she’s pretty deaf nowadays, actually) and jockeying for position on the canal trail. I’m still shaking my head at the whole affair three weeks on.
The next incident occurred just two days ago. Macey and I set out earlier than usual. It was heavily snowing big, fluffy snowflakes, the kind that you can easily catch on your tongue. It was kinda warm, too. The combination usually makes for a great walk. Before we even got to the trail, while crossing the bridge above the canal there was a youngish, amply rotund woman on the sidewalk ahead of us. Just as we were about to cross paths, she froze, staring down at Macey, her face tightened with a horrible grimace. She didn’t move. And Macey sniffed her leg. I tugged on Macey’s leash, said “Mornin'” to the lady, and we kept walking. About ten steps later I heard the lady say something but couldn’t tell what she said. We kept walking. Five more feet, and I heard her yell something. So I stopped, turned around, and shouted, “What?!” She hollered back, “You got a problem,” holding her arms outstretched to her sides as if inviting me to fight. I shook my head, and as I turned around I heard her scream, “You better watch yourself, God sees everything! God sees everything!” Of course, this lady was clearly afraid of dogs, and Macey only paid attention to her when she realized that the she was afraid. Still, Macey didn’t do anything aggressive, and I had her on leash at that point. And I still got reprimanded. I’m damned if I do, and I’m damned if I don’t. And I can’t for the life of me figure out why God got roped into this.