Gerald Karey writes: Neighborhood Dogs

Neighborhood Dogs

by Gerald Karey (Turkey 1965-67)

POODLES, I THINK, were bred to be work dogs, although I’m uncertain what work they did. They were not intended to be primped, pampered and coiffed to within an inch of their dog lives, trimmed of most hair except for little puffs at their paws, rumps, shoulders and tails, and minced around at dog-shows like some foppish dandy at the French royal court.

That’s no way to treat a dog. Adding insult to injury, recently I saw a tricked-out poodle in the neighborhood whose owner (and surely it wasn’t the dog’s decision), dyed each of those puffs of hair orange shading into purple. I was tempted to round on him (the owner, not the dog), accuse him of animal cruelty (or at least deep humiliation), and call the animal control agency and have the dog taken away.

I didn’t, of course. The dog seemed well-cared for and content (or perhaps resigned, although dogs don’t perceive colors, I think), and on relatively good terms with its owner (Stockholm syndrome?).

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IT’S BEEN A WHILE since I’ve seen the middle-aged guy with a large German Shepherd walk past on the other side of the street. The guy wore a perpetual scowl and the dog would bark loudly, strain at his leash and literally leap at and attempt to chase after every car that passed.

Its owner would pull mightily on the leash to restrain the dog until the car passed and they would continue their walk until the next car drove and the Shepherd and the owner would repeat the routine. The dog didn’t show any interest in pedestrians walking by, which was just as well.

I wondered why the owner never attempted to break the dog of the habit. Maybe he did, without success. Or perhaps not. Maybe the dog was a safe outlet for the owner’s own aggressive tendencies. But enough pop-psychology.

I never asked him. Remember, he wore a perpetual scowl which was off-putting, and had a large dog.

As I said, it’s been a while since they walked by. Maybe they moved and the dog is terrorizing vehicles elsewhere. Or perhaps the owner failed to hold on to the dog just once and it went one-on-one with a car. That never ends well for a dog.

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ANOTHER MIDDLE-AGED GUY who is confined to a wheel chair still passes by, preceded by a small brown and white dog on an extension leash. When the dog reaches the end of the leash it stops, looks over its shoulder and waits patiently until its owner, who is wheeling his chair manually, catches up before it proceeds. I know dogs are capable of enormous devotion to their owners, but I still find this dog’s behavior and apparent understanding of what it must do, touching.

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ONE OF THE JOYS of walking a dog is carrying around a plastic bag containing its droppings. What a great hail-and-well-met conversation starter with passing strangers: “Hey, what’s in the bag, friend?”

Maybe not. But most owners who walk by with their dogs are usually very good about picking up after their pets. My street leads to (and from, of course), a park and gets a fair amount of canine traffic. The occasional owner who leaves their dog’s droppings on my street really ticks me off. “Hey, you, let your dog shit on your street, not mine.”

True story: Once upon a time, a dog owner would thoughtfully pick up after the dog, place the material in a plastic bag and rather than carry it home deposit the bag in our trash can which was near the street in front of our house. What’s with that? It’s a clear violation of the social contract — the center cannot hold — and of local regulations (i.e., pick up after your pet). However, the county has yet to establish a jack-booted force of poop-police.

I was tempted to post a sign that said “this area is under constant surveillance” (think police state). It wasn’t, of course (although those helicopters that occasionally pass overhead are worrisome), except for the few minutes I spent peering from an upstairs window trying to catch the miscreant in the act. Finally I opted for moving the trash can about ten feet off the street which apparently was too far for the culprit to bother walking, and this extraordinary act of anarchy and unneighborly-ness ceased.

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ABOUT MY DOG, Smoochie? That’s not his name, but I am protecting his privacy. And I’m not going to say anymore about him. Yeah, he’s cuter, more lovable and smarter than your dog, and an honor roll student, but I’m certain you don’t want to hear that.

Gerald Karey taught English in a middle school in a Turkish village from 1965 to 1967. After the Peace Corps, he worked as a general assignment reporter for two newspapers in New Jersey, and for a McGraw-Hill newsletter in Washington, D.C., where he covered energy and environmental issues. A collection of his essays entitled Unhinged, was published in October, 2014.

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