Is He Friendly?

The plight of an urban dog walker

Somewhere in Fourth Ward Park, maybe around the boxes of manual poop-scooping bags, the city needs to post guidelines on dog-walking etiquette. Because I have no idea what's going on.

I just moved into the neighborhood, and now I walk my dog at the park along with what must be hundreds of other people. There is almost always some sort of episode.

It started the first morning at the new place. I had fifteen minutes before work and rushed out with the dog. We were heading down a brick path when he darted forward on his extend-a-leash, causing me to flip the switch and start reeling him in like a sea bass. A big golden retriever had just come around the corner and was doing the same thing.

I said to knock it off and pulled him to one side so we could pass without trouble. But then came the bait.
"Is he friendly?"

I'd love to say something like "not really," but I can't be the guy walking the mean Boston Terrier around town. So the dogs sniff each other and get their leashes all tangled up while the humans try to sort things out, making uncomfortable small talk.

"That was a good first meeting," the other owner said eventually, and pulled away.

My strategy has always been to avoid such a scenario at all costs. I'll cross the street, make a sudden turn, or alter my pace. I thought these efforts were appreciated.

I've since worked to accept the idea of dogs "meeting" when their paths must cross. But etiquette issues remain. For instance, is small talk required? What if I'm on my cell phone? Walking the dog has traditionally been my favorite time to call home. A woman recently ended her call when she saw us coming. Do I tell my mother I need to call her back because the dog has a meeting?

And then there are the people who stop their own walk altogether and wait, for the express purpose of such a dog meeting. I've experienced this at distances of up to thirty yards. I never look happy when I finally arrive, bag of dog poop in hand.

Instances involving poop, at least, have got to merit a free pass. The stretches of no-man's land between garbage pails can involve as many as three extra-awkward encounters during rush hour. I deserve the right to dispose of my smelly bag quickly.

Judging from my balcony and from behind trees, most people seem to be getting along fine. Sometimes they even unleash their dogs and let them play together. I tried that once. He loves to fetch tennis balls, so I took him out early one Sunday morning when the park was empty. But it has the highest ratio of cops to square foot of shade around, and one came out of nowhere and threatened me with a ticket.

I know there are other people trying to walk their dogs without incident. I've noticed some, mostly cute girls. One was coming at me on a path recently, and our dogs started pulling. There were no escape routes, and I figured it was time I enjoyed a meeting anyway, so I slowed down to let it happen. She sped up and dragged her dog away.

And we had so much in common.

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