I walk our dog Daisy along the beach at our cottage early in the morning on weekends and holidays whenever I can. It’s absolutely gorgeous and mostly quiet and undisturbed, except for one thing − other dog owners and their canine pets.
It doesn’t seem to matter at what time Daisy and I go out, from 6 am to 8 am, we keep running into other owners and their dogs. It’s the “brotherhood of the dog” and there are two problems with this. First, I don’t want to be part of it. And second, Daisy does. This has led to some embarrassing scenes.
The stretch of beach we frequent on Georgian Bay is about a mile long leading to promontories at either end. We start in the middle and walk to the south point and back. Others follow a similar path or go in the opposite direction. We can pass each other once or twice. This routine, which leads over the dunes, sends me “around the bend”.
The other owners and their dogs gather in packs. Apparently they have a lot to talk about and their dogs are best buddies. Daisy and I come along and I have trouble getting her past them. I’m sure I seem unfriendly. Well, actually, I am unfriendly. I’ll growl out a “hello” or “how you doing?”, but I just want to move on by.
I need the exercise of a brisk walk. Lollygagging around doesn’t cut it for me. Walking the dog isn’t the whole focus of my life. I want to get to the point and back, and then go home and have breakfast. Plus the other owners are happy couples or at least convivial acquaintances out for a stroll together. Do you think I can get my clan up and out with me at this time of day?
The other owners all want to pat Daisy. She’s a golden retriever and will flop down to show how friendly she is at the slightest sign of attention. But her excitement can never be contained, the leads get all tangled up and men, women and their charges spin off in crazy directions. Being responsible citizens, we’re all carrying plastic bags partly full of poop. They swing around wildly or get launched like sling shots. Somebody gets smacked on the back of the head, or worse, and that’s usually when my swearing starts.
The variety of other dogs we meet is quite interesting. The regulars include a giant poodle, several black labs, a number of mutts and a beagle. The beagle is never on a lead which, to me, is unfathomable. One morning the beagle followed Daisy and me for half a mile while his owner walked in the opposite direction.
We met again on the return circuit and I got to hear the explanation. “I thought Harvey would follow me if I walked away,” she said. Even I know better than that. As a youngster, my family once had a beagle. They’re great snugly beasts, but they don’t have the common sense of a rock. They only go where their nose leads them.
I often feel like I’m being judged by the other dog walkers and that I’m not up to the usual dog-owner standards. It’s particularly worrisome when I see them gathered in clumps and pointing at me. The paranoia reaches a fever pitch when I hear them laughing. Sound carries with extraordinary clarity over water.
I used to comfort myself that it didn’t really matter how I behaved during these walks, since I don’t know any of these people. We’ve never exchanged names or dog-sat for each other. Turns out I was wrong. They all know where Daisy and I live. “I always see your dog up on the deck sunning itself,” is what I’ve heard several times.
I’m not sure this isn’t a subtle warning. “We know where you live and we’ve got our eye on you.” Furthermore, I can only wonder what they think of our deck. It’s high off the ground, has a solid railing and no stairway access. That’s so as to keep the kids and the dog safe − in a big “play pen”, so to speak − and the riff-raff out.
Wait a minute. Now I’m sounding judgmental. It’s too easy to find fault with one another. Let’s make this less personal. There needs to be a standardized test to determine who should be allowed to make visits, or have a pet, or have kids for that matter. Such a test could be mandatory for couples who are about to be married. Scoring a good grade would make a nice “vetting present” for one’s intended, don’t you think?