Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"Nuts to You" At the Dog Park

I like to think that I am pretty good at seeing other people's perspectives in most situations.  Even when I react with initial incredulity at how a person has behaved, I try to put myself in their position and imagine what would motivate them to act the way they did.  Even though this may not bring me around to their way of thinking, I can at least extend a little understanding their way.  Ever so often, though, I run across some behavior that I just do not get.  Occasionally, someone will do or say something that I cannot possibly imagine being rational from any point of view.  This story illustrates just such a instance:
One afternoon last week, Jack and I took Zoe, our 3-year-old lab/pit mix to an off leash dog park here in Austin.  While Austin has a true abundance of parks and greenbelt, there are only a few that are officially off-leash.  The Redbud Isle dog park is one of them.  It's like a long, treed peninsula extending out into the lake.  We spend our time there wandering down the wide path that is this park, stopping occasionally to let Zoe get in the water.  There are dogs everywhere, happily frolicking in the water and playing chase with each other around the trees.  Then, just as we are wandering off from some stone steps that go down to the water, a lady comes up with her two children (both around six or eight years old.)  She does not have a dog with her.  Zoe stops to sniff her, prompting the following conversation:

Lady: You need to come get your dog!
Me (confused): Oh, what did she do?
Lady:  She's just being a little too familiar.
Me (thinking to reassure her): Oh, don't worry.  She wouldn't hurt a fly.
(This is a dog that's afraid of empty grocery bags and cardboard boxes.)
Lady:  Well, I've heard that before.
Me (after a pause):  It is a dog park, you know.

After the exchange, Jack, Zoe and I walk off to seek our entertainment elsewhere.  I don't really want to hang around this chick if she's as unreasonable as she has thus far appeared.  We wander down the park, Zoe swims some more, and we finally decide to head home.  On the way out, we pass the same lady with her kids.  Zoe (I swear she did this on purpose) veers off and does a drive by, stopping oh-so-briefly to sniff the one woman in the park who doesn't like dogs.  THAT conversation went like this:

Lady:  Come get your dog!  I know it's a dog park, but people pay the taxes.
Me:  She didn't do anything!  You know, there are plenty of other parks for you to enjoy if dogs make you nervous.
Lady:  Well, it's just common courtesy!
Me:  You need to relax!

Then, we walk off, yet again.  I didn't point out to her that many of those same tax payers she referenced own dogs that use the dog parks.  I didn't ask her what in the world she was doing at an off-leash park with a dog phobia.  I did notice that neither of her kids seemed bothered by the dogs.
If Zoe had jumped on her or growled at her, it would have been a whole different story - one involving a profuse apology on my part and Zoe's being leashed for the rest of the trip.  I would not, however, let Zoe off leash if I thought she posed any threat whatsoever to other people or dogs.  I do think, when visiting that particular park, you have to concede it is for the dogs and their owners primarily.  This is why I keep a close eye on Jack and pick him up if the big dogs get too rowdy and why I don't complain if one of them accidentally knocks him over or gets mud on my pants.  It's a dog park; that's par for the course, as is dogs coming by and pausing briefly to sniff you.
Maybe this lady didn't realize it was an off-leash park.  That's hard to imagine given the signs at the entrance, but I suppose it's possible.  Maybe she was looking for a fight and thought complaining about dogs at a dog park was a good way to find one.  Or, and this is the theory I favor, maybe she recognized the pit bull in Zoe, and that made her nervous.  Whatever her motive, I think I can safely say that her behavior was irrational.  It's like complaining that children on a playground are walking too close to you or laughing too loud.
After this altercation, as I do with all things, I considered the example I was setting for Jack.  And, I considered the kind of person I am and strive to be and whether or not I handled it well.  While I am by nature non-confrontational and don't think it serves anyone to start fights with strangers, I do believe in standing up for myself and for my loved ones, including Zoe.  I do believe in saying what I think, without name-calling or accusations, and I think I did a fair job of that in this instance.  While I do want to pass onto Jack a sense that all people's points of views deserve consideration, maybe knowing that, occasionally, people are just plain nuts isn't a bad lesson either.

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