Welcome to ‘I Hate My Dog’, a semi-regular series about the struggles of a first-time dog owner just trying his best for his new dog, Buttercup. Today, we examine the characters you meet when walking you dog.
The title of “dog-owner” comes with many requirements. It means trips to the vet. It means stocking up on lots of lots of treats. It means lugging around bags of dogfood bigger than an infant and picking up stray cotton innards of recently decapitated toys. It also means taking your special little guy or gal on walks, or “walkies” as you will probably end up calling them. Don’t worry. It happens to all of us.
Walking your dog is a chance to get away from it all, to put away your phone and get a little fresh air, especially since we are now in the throes of autumn, the best season of the year. The crisp air, falling leaves, and most importantly, lack of an oppressive summer sun, makes for perfect walking weather.
It is also a great way to spend time with your dog, to get some of their energy out, and to let them explore. Win-win.
When my wife and I adopted Buttercup, the dream I talked about most was taking her for her long morning walks. I pictured us in matching red flannel shirt/collar, my breath visible in the air, and Buttercup trotting through the morning dew and sniffing the corners on our vacant streets.
That’s the wonderful thing about walks: the isolation.
This article is not about Buttercup (or how much I hate her, despite the title). This isn’t even an article about dogs. This is an article about what nobody tells you about taking your dog for her daily walks. This is about the people you’ll meet along the way.
I Hate My Dog: The Seven Types of People You’ll Meet While Walking Your Dog
First Thing’s First
The first thing you’ll notice when walking your dog is the attention you will receive. Men and women, boys and girls–it does not matter. The minute you walk outside with your dog, you become a target for people of all walks of life to talk to you.
We live in a society where the rules of decorum were perfectly clear–or so I thought. if I’m wearing headphones, that means don’t talk to me. But those rules don’t apply if you have a dog. Dog negates headphones.
I have no sympathy for people who have a dog but can’t seem to find a date. You have a readymade lure literally tied to your hand. Anglerfish don’t have it so good.
Not a single day goes by that someone doesn’t take time out of their busy schedule to comment on Buttercup specifically. I could go months without a stranger talking to me. This is New York, after all. We could get by on little more than a mutual head nod of appreciation. But now, I have a dog, and those days are long gone.
From my experience, these spontaneous dog-talkers come in two varieties; the positive and the negative.
Complimenters are the easiest to understand, and, if we’re being honest, probably one of the reasons you got a dog in the first place.
These wonderful people either have a dog, have had a dog, or want one. They want you to know that your precious little girl is just as precious and just as little as you always suspected. They say things like “She’s precious!” or “She’s adorable!” or “She’s so cute!”
It is easy to internalize these compliments as a statement about yourself, a trap I have fallen into many times. You think, “I’m cute!” and “I’m adorable!” and “I’m so well-behaved.” But in reality, if they are complimenting you at all (which you must remember, they are not), they are complimenting your ability to choose a physically appealing dog. “Way to choose a dog with good bone structure!” they could say.
These Complimenters can brighten your day and put a pep in your pup… if they leave it there. If they don’t, they metastasize into a new breed, a breed I call…
Complimenters often mean well, but they are just as likely to use it as a way to open the floodgates and tell you about their dog. Once you pull off your headphones with an apologetic “Sorry?” all bets are off. Now you’re stuck on the corner of 235th and Katonah listening to their life story and the many varieties of pets that they’ve owned in their not-inconsiderable time on this planet.
“I had a cocker spaniel,” they’ll say. “Mitzie, her name was. That was my first dog. I got her… I want to say… the early 1950’s. It must’ve been because she had an I Like Ike pin on her collar. She was a peach. My second dog…”
And now you’re stuck. Fun fact: I’m still stuck in some of these conversations. There’s nothing you can do. How can you turn to these people and say “Thanks for complimenting my dog, but I don’t care about yours?” You can’t. And they know it.
These Over-Sharers tend to be old, but every so often, they will be men in their 30s, often in construction, who are tough but surprisingly sentimental about the pit bulls they’ve owned in the past. It is nice to reward their uncharacteristic sensitivity but they do tend to go on. And in those moments, Buttercup becomes the perfect wingman; curious to the point of distraction and ready to drag you along by the wrist and out of this one-sided conversation.
Thanks for the kind words, Construction Man! I’m sure you understand.
As I said, I knew, even welcomed, chatty strangers. I knew people would want to talk about Buttercup because I have wanted to talk to strangers about their dogs. Heck, I’ve been the passing Complimenter in my time. However, while I anticipated having to deal with a quick comment or two, one thing I didn’t anticipate was the topic of discussion. There are people who want to probe deeper. These are what my wife and I call Breeders. These weirdos come in all shapes and sizes but they’re only interested in one thing.
Your dog’s ancestry.
It’s like an episode of The Walking Dead out there. You’ll be going about your business, chasing a squirrel up a tree or begging her to poop when suddenly you’ll hear it.
“She’s adooooorable. She’s so cuuuuuuuute. What breeeeeeed is she?”
Eugenicists aren’t so interested in genetics.
You can usually spot these people at a distance because they will be the ones standing about thirty yards away, staring at your pooch and quietly trying to answer the pressing question on their own. Eventually, they’ll give in, or you’ll accidentally walk closer, and then all hope is lost.
“She’s a pit bull, ain’t she?”
“She’s a pit bull/bulldog/French bulldog mix,” you repeat for the hundredth time.
“I can tell! She’s got some pit bull in her face.”
“Yup, just a bit.”
“I once owned a–”
The Handsy Folk
I used to be afraid of dogs. We don’t need to get into it, but for a long time, I did not trust them. I didn’t like their loud barks or sudden movements and I really didn’t like it when they lunged at me.
Some people do not share this affliction.
Some people just walk up and touch your dog. And I’m not talking about children who want to pet a puppy, but full-grown adults who ought to know better. Dogs are not people, but they are beings. Literally. They are a thing that is in the process of being. Mankind often forgets this. Our dominance of nature is so intense and overwhelming that we do things we never would have done in our cavemen days, like own chimpanzees or eat cow tongue.
Dogs have been successfully marketed as Man’s Best Friend, a cheery companion that will run by your side in dogfood commercials or make derpy faces in GIFs. But the reality is that not every dog is camera ready.
Buttercup is one of these dogs.
Buttercup does not like strangers. Oh sure, she’ll come around. Give her 10 minutes and she’ll be begging you for a tug of war or some rib scratchies, but anyone who pays her too much attention too soon might as well be a threat.
These Handsy Folk always think the rules do not apply to them. I’ve taken to telling them right off the bat, “Don’t touch her. She bites.” You gotta do what you gotta do. But still, there are people who say, “Not with me,” and approach with hand-outstretched, confident in their self-diagnosed animal magnetism and blissfully unaware of the rising hairs on Buttercup’s back.
They will not be unaware for long…
One day, I was taking Buttercup for a walk in the morning and she was having a pee. There are a lot of pee stories in this article. It is about dog walks. We live on an incline, so Buttercup was turning the cracks in the sidewalk into her own yellow aqueduct when a woman approached. Early 30s. Pleasant looking. Business attire.
I apologized for my dog urinating in the middle of the public sidewalk. “When you gotta go, you gotta go,” I shrugged.
“Oh, she’s adorable,” she cooed (classic Complimenter behavior) before reaching out with her hand and bending down to touch the still-peeing pup. You know, the way all women like to be touched whilst peeing.
Buttercup snarled and lunged forward and spun in a 360° arc, turning her rear end into an oscillating pee sprinkler, covering the sidewalk, the pants of the stranger’s business suit, and my bare legs, in a fresh coat.
All I could do was give her the ol’ Jim Halpert and apologize. I know she meant well.
But not all strangers are quite so friendly…
Some people don’t like dogs, and that is understandable. They smell. They bark. They leak and are unwilling to learn to use the toilets. And what’s worse, society has decreed that they are amazing.
Not liking dogs is like not liking Obama in ’08. Both are beloved on a global scale and disliked only by terrorists and racists. You’re not a racist, are you?
This injustice brews inside these people and comes out in strange ways. Most are content to grimace as Buttercup does her business, but this isn’t an article about silent people.
These Haters have to make their opinions known.
One afternoon, I was walking Buttercup down the street as an old man approached. Buttercup is a curious dog, so I keep an extra tight leash with strangers. The old man and I crossed paths and he looked Buttercup in her little piggy face.
“She’s an ugly dog, isn’t she?” said the man in the glass house.
“Excuse me?” I asked, missing my opportunity to decrease the surplus population.
“Mean looking dog,” he said.
I was fully expecting a Breeder, but instead, I got a Hater.
Haters are especially hard to deal with because of the internalization I mentioned before. You think of your dog as a reflection of yourself. You’re the good boy. You’re the handsome boy. And now this prick comes along and says you have a mean-looking face? You want to stick up for your dog and tell them they have a face like a slapped ass, but that’s like bringing a gun to a knife fight.
You have no choice but to remind yourself that your dog is rubber and they are glue. But sometimes, strangers come with threats.
A few weeks ago, Buttercup and I were sitting in the park while strangers passed. Another old man came walking, and Buttercup, uneasy with how close this man was getting to me, snapped and startled the old-timer.
“She’s a nasty beast!” he spat. I apologized and scolded Buttercup but the Old Man hadn’t finished. “She’s protecting ye but ye must get her under control, or she’ll be put down!” He shambled along his way before adding, “I’ll make sure of that,” capping his sinister prognostication. I’m sure you will, Ms. Gulch.
The Get Off My Lawn-ers
Get Off My Lawn-ers are Haters who have bred with introverts, and they are every bit as territorial as dogs. The difference is that they are bitter.
These stories begin, as the greatest stories so often do, with the threat of defecation. Buttercup draws attention when she pees because she squats when she does it. She’s not a leg-up dog, prepped to sprinkle a fire hydrant like you see in comics. She’s a proper lady.
But her sudden, hunched squats do draw a lot of negative attention, and I get it. You hate to see a bad dog owner like you hate to see a bad parent or a person who takes up two spots when they park. Few things bring up the bile in the soul like someone who leaves dog shit on the sidewalk for you to enjoy later like a smelly surprise party for your shoe.
So whenever Buttercup makes her mess, I make a big show of pulling out the poo-bags and flapping them open, picking up the B.M. and tying it up before throwing it away in the nearest city-provided receptacle.
But sometimes, it’s just a pee. And it happens without warning and without provocation or malicious intent. But others don’t see it that way.
On one occasion, Buttercup literally stopped to smell the roses through an iron fence. I pulled her away and she tugged back and began to do her business on the concrete. I looked around, giving her her privacy when I spotted an old woman in a nightgown staring at me through the front door like something out of a horror film.
I smiled. “Looks like we’ve sprung a leak.” She stared back at me with humorless eyes.
“Are you going to clean that up?”
“It’s not a 2. Just a 1,” I comforted her.
“I don’t care what it is,” she said. “Clean it up.”
These people think they own not only their lawn but the sidewalk as well, all the way down to the weeds. Which I think is unfair, because they have a MAGA sign in their front lawn and I don’t tell them to clean up their shit.
Buttercup must have sensed the tension, because now, she pees there all the time.
And finally, there’s…
Late, one summer afternoon, I was taking Buttercup for her walk just before dinner. It was a golden day and Buttercup and I had been out for a long one. Like Jesus in the desert, we were ready to go home.
We heard a familiar remark. “She’s beautiful.” Total Complimenter.
I stopped to thank the stranger, who introduced himself, with a thick Germain accent as Hans. Hans was six and a half feet tall, with a strong jaw, short blond hair, and heavily tattooed arms.
He correctly guessed Buttercup’s breed. Classic Breeder.
And then he leaned down and reached out. Classic Handsy.
To my surprise, Buttercup walked forward and started nuzzling him and licking his hand. The man had totally wooed her in seconds. I was impressed with Hans’ Ace Venturian connection. He handled her perfectly.
Hans told me that he had a pit bull of his own. Gray, not a mixed breed like Buttercup, and therefore much larger.
“She is beautiful,” he sighed, “Do you think she’d like to meet my dog?”
Buttercup has never been socialized, so meeting other dogs has always been a challenge for her. I told him as much.
He sighed again.
“I love pit bulls,” he said. “I’d like to have more.”
And then he asked the question.
“Do you think you’d like to have her breed with my dog?”
I was flabbergasted. He didn’t even try to wine and dine her first. What did Hans think she was? A mail-order bride? Some floozy? I may hate my dog, but I’m not about to pimp her out to some stranger’s much larger dog. And let’s just get this straight. I bring my dog over for a one night stand, you(r dog) gets her pregnant, she carries the litter to term and has the puppies, and then you just swoop in and take them like some Bizzaro absentee father? No thanks.
“She’s spayed,” I replied. “So, I mean, he can try.”
Hans didn’t seem dissuaded. I’m sure his dog has super-canine sperm capable of impregnating a spayed dog but I didn’t press the matter.
The Pimp gave me his number but I haven’t called him.
To be fair, you’re not likely to run into one of these guys, but I was subjected to him and I think you should be too.