Dickens (Dicky) is a 14 year-old cocker spaniel. John could tell you more about his history than I could, but at present there is one thing I can say for certain: Dicky’s tolerance for people varies. At home, he’ll bark at anyone he is not a hundred percent familiar with. Out on walks, it’s a crapshoot. One minute, he could be so engrossed in his pee-mail that the court of King Caractacus could just pass him by and the next minute he’ll loudly bark at anyone merely thinking of turning onto our street from several blocks away and walking in our direction.
There is absolutely no gray area when it comes to other animals, especially other dogs. Dickens does not like meeting other people’s dogs and this would not be a problem if it weren’t for other dog owners.
Now here’s a bit of history.
Salem Commons has been used for many things over the centuries. It was a training ground for various regiments, including those that fought in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. It has been a grazing field for livestock. More recently you could get away with calling it “The Park” as you will find all of the things that a park contains like a playground, yoga classes, sword fighting and dog walkers.
That being said, Salem Commons is not actually a “dog park”. It is a place where people walk their dogs, but leash laws are passively enforced here. I say passively because I very much doubt that anyone has ever paid a fine for letting their dog off the leash.
When the park is particularly lively, John and I like to avoid it as it can be very stressful when we are out there with Dicky and having to tell people, “Not friendly”, or “call your dog” every ten seconds. I find it especially stressing when I have to restrain Dicky because someone is being clueless with their own animal and all I want to say is, “The dog is on the leash, I’m not, F-off.”
Most dog owners in Salem are generally very responsible. They respect our dog’s space like they would expect us to respect theirs. But there are a few bad apples who seem to think that they are above the law and would probably be the first people to call for our heads if their dog ran up to ours and wound up getting bitten.
We took Dicky to the Commons. It was very active, with a soccer game going on and the like, but for the most part, Dicky was content to do his own thing. Unfortunately, there was a gentleman there whom I will call Goldmember.
Goldmember is a frequent user of this park and he is the owner of a golden retriever. And his golden retriever is one we have encountered many times, because Goldmember is an example of one of those owners who is not only completely clueless when we tell him that our dog is not friendly, but will continue to stand there and make smart remarks like, “Oh, your dog’s not very friendly is he.”
No shit, was your first clue the fact that we told you he wasn’t friendly? Of course this won’t stop his own dog, who is always off the leash, from trying to get close to ours, so that we have to physically pick Dicky up and hold him in place to keep an incident from occurring.
Well, Goldmember was taking it up a notch on this day. He decided to take a tennis racket to the park, bat a tennis ball, and have his retriever go chase it. And in typical Goldmember’s Dog Fashion, the retriever will catch the ball, but immediately take the opportunity to get to know another owner’s dog with or without the other owner’s approval.
In conversation, John was getting frustrated and nervous about Goldmember and his dog. And this is one of those rare examples of a time when I’ll attempt to be diplomatic. I said,
“Well, in all fairness, this is the closest thing we have to a dog park in Salem.”
“That’s not true. There’s Leslie’s Retreat Park down by Mason Street.”
I knew about this park, but I also know where it is located. Mason Street also has a mental health crisis center, in addition to being a popular spot in the police section of the paper. Even if it was a shorter walk for man and dog without the various logistical complications of bringing your dog to this park, on top of the fees and such, I could understand why people living near the Salem Commons would rather not go through the hassle.
What followed was a back and forth between me and John. Whereas he was only concerned for Dicky’s safety, I was speaking out of the general ignorance that I tend to criticize others for in an attempt to justify why it might be okay for some dog walkers to let their dogs run loose. For example, we did meet one lady who was doing circuits around the park. Her own golden retriever was off the leash, but it was staying at her side the entire time because it was, uh, what’s the term? Oh yeah, well trained.
My own obliviousness came to a complete stop when Goldmember’s dog began running towards us. John noticed him before I did.
“Call your dog! CALL YOUR DOG!”
John never shouts at someone. I turned and my own heart skipped a beat as I got to my knees, gripping Dicky’s leash and preparing to get between him and the retriever if worse came to worse. The retriever eventually stopped and ran back to his owner, but Goldmember just stood there not even making a move to apologize for not paying attention to what his dog was doing.
“Okay,” I said to John. “I understand what you mean. And that guy is definitely a dick.”
Of course the issue ended on a bit of a cliff hanger as we later saw that same man walking his dog (this time on the leash) past our house and giving us a dirty look. Like how dare we expect his dog to respect our space.
If Goldmember reads this, or you happen to know who he is by triangulation, be sure to let him know that the next time I am in Salem Commons with Dicky, I will have my camera with me.