|The Author's Dog, Beckett|
I was closer to murder this evening than I generally care to be.
I live in a leafy enclave of a major city. It's a hip neighbourhood—a nice mix of progressive, well-educated young couples, retirees, and a smattering of young families. In the winter, kids and their parents toboggan on a nearby hill. There are two beautiful parks that are always full. It's a nice community full of nice people, for the most part.
Most everyone has dogs. We're a dog neighbourhood.
The temperature had been rising all day, peaking at over 77ºF, which is unusual in May, but not surprising considering that, worldwide, April 2016 was the hottest April in recorded history.
Beckett, my Labrador, was panting more than usual. His black fur was unusually warm from the sun, so we walked slowly, in the shade and at his pace, not mine. I walked him on grass, wherever possible, to keep his feet cool. I was sweating under my straw hat, eager to get Beckett home where it was cool.
Suddenly, from behind us, came the jangling of chains and the pounding of feet.
A woman lurched past in jogging gear, dragging two dogs behind her. One of the dogs was wearing a pinch collar. The woman, whom I've seen before, scowled at the ground as she ran. I could hear music blasting from her headphones. She was oblivious to her dogs gasping in the heat as she thundered past.
I called after her to tell her to slow down, that it was too hot for her dogs to be running that fast, but she didn't—or wouldn't—hear me, and she was soon out of sight.
The early summer heat was suddenly more oppressive than ever; the scent of cut green grass became nauseatingly sweet. I couldn't get the sight of the senior dachshund with the tiny legs, trying desperately to keep up as the collar bit into his neck, out of my mind.
By the time I got home, I was shaking with rage.
As awful as this scene was, I'd seen versions of it before—not just with this particular woman, but also with other people, the kind of people for whom a dog is either another item to be checked off on a multitask list, or an accessory, or a fashion statement.
There's a man in the neighbourhood with a year-old Rottweiler whom he forces to run alongside him on his bicycle, again wearing a pinch collar. I see joggers pulling their dogs behind expensive strollers as their owners prattle on headsets, their minds anywhere but in the now. There are muscle bros with pit bulls and mastiffs on chains almost as heavy as the ones the men wear as they power along the streets in the heat, flexing and sweating, hyperconscious of the virile, macho image they think they're projecting, using their dog to intimidate and impress.
Most of the time it's just annoying. When the mercury rises, it's murderous.
To these people—including my neighbours in our nice, progressive, leafy enclave, and indeed dog owners everywhere—I have a message for you: if you want to get your cardio and kill your dog at the same time this summer, this is how it's done.
In fact, you're already doing it.
When people call you on forcing your dog to over-exert in the heat, you tell them, Oh, he loves to run! Look at him! It's his favourite time of the day!
Actually, anytime your dog gets to be with you it's "his favourite time of the day."
Your dog loves you. He'll do anything to please you, including running himself to death beside you along pavement hot enough to fry an egg.
He'll run until trying to keep up with your bike causes his core body temperature to hit 109ºF and he begins to die. As you jerk the leash attached to his collar and snap at him to "keep up," he'll wonder what he did to deserve this punishment. You can be certain his very last thoughts, before he goes into the agonizing, fatal convulsions of heat stroke, will be of his guilt at not being able to please you by running fast enough.
The people who don't call you on it are not ambivalent about what they see. They're also not afraid of you. What they're afraid of is that, after you tell them to mind their own business, that your dog is your property and you'll do what you want with it, you'll take your embarrassment out on the dog in some dreadful way. Maybe by cycling, or running, faster to show you don't care what anyone thinks.
Or something worse later, when you're out of sight.
Those of us who do call you on it, the ones who politely, urgently try to reason with you, who beg you to walk your dog beside your bike because it's one of those searing days when the air shimmers, and breathing is hard enough from a human-height, let alone at pavement-height, those of us who beg you to get you dog into the shade, who beg you to give it water—we're not looking down on you; we're not trying to start a fight, or shame you. We don't automatically think you're evil.
We just don't want you to kill your dog by accident.
That said, when our pleas fall on deaf ears, when you ignore us, or berate us, and cycle or jog away, this is what we're thinking: we're picturing you with a metal pinch collar biting into your neck, gagged, dressed in an airtight neoprene wetsuit under a fur coat, being dragged barefoot across the pavement behind a fast-moving bike on hottest day of the summer. We're wondering how long you'd last without water.
We're thinking maybe then you'd understand what you're doing to your dog.
The difference is, unlike you, we'd never dream of being so cruel to anyone—or anything—that couldn't beg us, for pity's sake, to stop.
© 2016 Michael Rowe. All rights reserved.
Michael Rowe was born in Ottawa and has lived in Beirut, Havana, Geneva, and Paris. An award-winning journalist and essayist, his second novel Wild Fell was a finalist for the 2013 Shirley Jackson Award. He welcomes readers at www.michaelrowe.com.
|Beckett and Michael Rowe. Photographs in this entry were provided by the author.|
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