Disclaimer: I am about to rant. And rant in a way that you may think is petty. If you think I’m petty then this post is probably meant for you.
So I’m at White Haven today, in the “Little Lambs” section, pondering the graves of the three infant children of a couple named Michael and Molly Nier, whose infant daughter and two infant sons died within a three year period, when I hear a woman’s voice behind me say something that sounds like, “Uh oh”.
I love walking in this particular cemetery, because it’s safe and quiet and solemn. I like the tranquility. I think, I pray, I write in my head. I read the headstones and talk to the cemetery workers. I listen to the birds and take pictures of the foliage. It’s a little sanctuary. And the best part is that I can walk Bailey there with relative assurance that we’re not going to be surprised by other dog walkers. It’s not the case with the other places where I can walk Bandit.
Bailey, in case you don’t know, has some reactivity issues with other dogs. As in, if approached by a strange dog she may react in a way that causes harm to the other dog or anyone trying to separate them. It’s a behavior problem we’ve worked with in training, and we have learned to manage the situations as well as help her learn how to manage her impulses. She’s made incredible progress. I mean, really incredible. And now she even does really well in organized situations with other dogs. She can go to classes with other dogs. She can meet another dog nicely and then we do a quick “break!” and she comes back nicely. We always work on this with another behavior-savvy dog owner whose dog is on leash.
Notice that I say “organized” situations. Surprises, like a strange dog bounding at us from out the blue? Not such a happy scenerio. Bailey can start out happy and wiggling her butt with joy, but in an instant things can go very, very wrong, and if the other dog is off leash, there’s no way to call it off Bailey.
Translation: when my dog is on leash, I have control over her. When your dog is off leash, you not only can’t control your dog but you cause major problems for me. Because at no time do I ever have any control over your dog.
Which is why walking at White Haven is so great for both dogs. It’s really close to home, so I can take one dog for a walk, then go home and switch. (Yes, Bailey’s issues extend to her brother Bandit. They are always separated by gates in our house. They can walk perfectly fine together as long as one person walks one dog and they don’t have to ride together in the car.) There are very few places in this cemetery where we can’t see into the distance, giving me a chance to avoid funerals, other walkers, and one maintenance golf cart that for some reason Bailey really doesn’t like. Bandit? No problems walking anywhere. You just have to make sure he doesn’t pee on everything in sight.
So there’s some background. Now, back to this afternoon.
I’d already walked Bailey, gone home to switch dogs, had walked with Bandit and am now on my way back to my car. And again, I’m standing in the infant section for several minutes, really taking time to read the headstones and wonder about this couple and their loss, when I hear someone behind me.
I turn around and find a big, slobbering (literally, slobber just falling from its mouth) Golden Retriever headed towards me and Bandit. I tell Bandit, “No, no, no, no,” pull his leash tight to me and call to the woman to get her dog. She kind of lollygags where she is, about 20 feet away, calling to the dog, who blatantly ignores her. I call, “Get your dog!” Nothing. I yell louder, “Get your dog! This is very dangerous!” She ignores me while her dog ignores her.
OK, I know that you’re thinking, “I get how this would be a problem with Bailey, since you just told me about her issues. But Bandit is the good dog. And this is just a big, stupid Golden. What’s the problem?”
As nice as Bandit is, he’s not always a fan of other dogs. But at least he’s predictable, in the way most dogs are predictable. At this moment, Bandit is sniffing the slobbering dog but I can see his ears going back and his eyes narrowing and I know that some snapping may ensue if the Golden comes any closer to me. Bandit likes a buffer zone between me and anyone else, two- or four-legged. He’ll send out serious warning signals if he thinks someone is going to violate that zone or otherwise just pisses him off. But I don’t know what this other dog is going to do if Bandit reacts that way. I mean, my dog looks all nice and friendly at this point, too. And Bailey can’t read other dogs’ signals so I know from experience that it can be all happy tail wagging one minute and blood the next. This dog’s owner is clearly clueless; I can only assume her dog is, too.
Translation: a smart dog owner knows their own dog but is always be prepared for the worst from someone else’s dog.
I call again to the woman, “This is really dangerous!! Get your dog!!!” The woman puts her hand to her ear to imply she can’t hear me. I yell louder. She ignores me, her dog ignores her, and I’m getting more and more pissed off by the second. I’m walking away with Bandit but the Golden is following along.
I yell to the woman that she needs to keep her dog ON THE LEASH so I stop walking, and, to make a point, hold her dog’s collar for a second and tell her to come and get her dog. She tells me to leave her dog alone. I let go and basically scream (yup, at the top of my lungs), “PUT YOUR DOG ON A LEASH”. She tells me I don’t have to talk to her like that.
I pull out my cell phone and contemplate calling 9-1-1. My heart is pounding, because I know that this scenerio could go completely awry in an instant if Bandit snaps at this dog and it freaks in return. If that happens, the owner has no way to pull her dog back, mostly owing to the fact that it’s not only off leash but she’s still about 20 feet away. Do I keep walking and have her dog follow? Do I stand there and wait until her dog decides to leave, hoping that Bandit loses interest?
And running through my mind? “God, if I had Bailey with me, this would be really, really bad.”
Anyway, I finally manage to walk away without her dog following any more. It hangs around for a second and then wanders back to sniff the wreaths on the baby graves. (Note in the photo above that the woman still has not made any attempt to retrieve her dog, other than a casual “Come here”.)
When we’re a distance away, her dog meanders back to her and they walk … off leash. I yell, “Put the dog on a leash, for God’s sake!” When her dog catches up, she doesn’t put it on a leash. She gives it a treat.
I take a picture. Then I go report her to the cemetery guy.
Still thinking, “Big deal? No one got hurt.” How about this? Even if you disregard the fact that my dog might not like other dogs – and the fact that I’m in the cemetery legally and following the rules and taking every step to make sure my dog is behaving – how did the woman know we weren’t there to mourn someone? It is a cemetery, after all, and the main reason it exists is as a place for people to be buried and their loved ones to mourn them. And we had been in the infant section for several minutes, so it would be logical to think we were there to actually visit a grave.
The folks at White Haven are graciously understanding when I report people with dogs off leash – and I’m talking about people with complete disregard for mourners, for other dog walkers and for people simply walking. I once met a guy with a whole pack of dogs off leash and one of his little ankle biters actually chased a guy down the road. He make a half-hearted attempt to call the dog back, but it’s tough when you have a bunch of other dogs running loose around you. (In fact, he had a woman with him that day, with some dogs of her own. I counted six big dogs but lost count of the little ones.)
I think when you’re a dog owner, you have to have a high level of tolerance for dog owners dealing with accidents or mistakes, and who are genuinely sorry that they’ve bothered you. We’ve all been there. A dog breaks a leash, jumps out of your car, digs under the fence, barks during the day (or even at night, for legitimate reasons). Had this woman in any way said, “Oh, I’m so sorry, here let me get my dog” this would be a completely different scenerio. But I seem to keep meeting the people whose off leash dogs maul me and Bandit (thank God, it’s only been Bandit so far) and then act like I’m the problem because I get mad.
I don’t want to be a jerk. Honest, I don’t. But I mean, seriously? What kind of a person disrupts people mourning at a cemetery by letting their dog roam around and approach people? To me, it’s just common courtesy to not let your dog approach people. It’s not a dog park.
It’s not even a public park. White Haven Memorial Park is private property. They can tell us not to walk any dogs there at any time, which is the policy at many other cemeteries in the area. Instead, they allow and encourage people to walk their dogs and the make it easy to be courteous. They have doggy poop bag dispensers and signs asking people to leash their dogs. They even have a lovely nature trail in the woods (which I can’t use even when I’m without a dog, because I know people let their dogs roam off leash through the woods).
Clearly, I can’t even walk in the cemetery part any more, which is not the fault of the folks at White Haven. They’re incredible hosts and extremely kind and friendly. It’s the dog walkers who disobey the cemetery rules.
So I’m at a loss about what to do, dog walking-wise. Because of people who not only let their dogs run off leash but act like we’re wrong because we want their dogs to leave us the hell alone, we can’t walk in our own neighborhood. (At one point on my street, the two dogs to the left of us were outside off leash; the dog at the end of the street in the other direction was off leash; the guy across the street let his dogs run around off leash; and two giant St. Bernards roamed around off leash. I literally couldn’t go out of my driveway without meeting dogs off leash – or come into my yard to pester my dogs behind the gate.)
We can’t go to any of the area parks anymore. We can’t walk in most of Mt. Hope. We can occasionally walk at Pittsford Cemetery, but recently I saw someone walking a little dog off leash, which makes me nervous. Pittsford Cemetery has lots of trees and monuments and places where you can’t see what’s around the corner. And now we can’t go to White Haven.
It makes me mad. I’m walking my dogs legally and on leash. I pick up their poop. I avoid the mourners and funerals. Plus, I’m enjoying the sanctuary of the cemetery, getting exercise, and finding time to clear my head and refresh my spirit. I’m not doing anything wrong. But when things like this happen I leave angry and shaking. I don’t care if your Golden (or Lab or Husky or Maltese or mutt) is the nicest dog in the world. I don’t want it near me or my dogs without my permission. Not even an apology? An “I’m so sorry, here let me get my dog”? An attempt to even act like you care the your dog is bothering me?
What’s left for dog owners like us? Not much, as long as there are arrogant, ignorant dog owners who act like every green space is their own personal dog park.