Writers on the Range: Walking the dog and sharing the space
If my doctor told me I had to walk for an hour every day, no matter what the weather or my workload, I’d find a way to blow him off. But when the dog demands his daily stroll, I can’t talk him out of it. He nags until he gets to go outdoors and run around.Our two-year-old mutt is named Bodie. He resembles a coyote. He has certain virtues, like affection and cuteness, and certain potentially lethal vices, such as being a car-chasing idiot.So I must be mindful of where we walk with the leash off. Often, we stroll along the railroad tracks just east of town. Bodie would doubtless chase locomotives, but no train has rolled here since the Union Pacific put the line out of service eight years ago. There are occasional vehicles on a rutted road that runs between the tracks and the Arkansas River, but they must go slowly.The drivers, when we get to chat, are always friendly. Usually they’re anglers, headed for a pullover along the river. A manic dog could disrupt the transcendental fly-fishing experience, but none has ever complained. They just pat him on the head and say something like “cute dog” before we walk on.There’s plenty of human variety along the road. Other dog-walkers are the most friendly, especially if they have border collies that love to run. We humans gossip while the dogs bound in great loops, up the rocky hillside and down to the river; we’re glad they do such a fine job of exercising themselves.The one exception was a woman with a toy poodle. Bodie went over and sniffed, the little dog sniffed back, and a canine friendship was developing when the woman yelled at me to “Call off your dog.” I whistled for Bodie and he came, but that wasn’t enough. She kept yelling. I told her that she shouldn’t bring her wimp lapdog out to where the big dogs run, and she stomped off in a huff.Dogless pedestrians are always cordial. They pat Bodie and we talk about spotting the local bighorn herd or about the rock-collecting possibilities in a nearby old mine dump. Most of them are baby-boomer age, and like me, they’re glad for any excuse to rest their knees and lungs.I can’t say I like the noisy ATVs and motorcycles – although Bodie likes them enough to chase them, alas – but their drivers, when we get a chance to talk, are friendly. They laugh about Bodie’s chase efforts and expound on the stupidity of their own dogs. There’s an unspoken truce. They may not much care for pedestrians with high-energy dogs, just as I don’t much care for their disruptive machines. But both parties are aware that we’re in a public area and we have to put up with each other. Otherwise, the authorities might decide to institute some regulations that could deprive all of us of our convenient outings.Mountain-bikers usually whiz by without talking, or even warning that they’re coming up behind you. Bodie follows them for about a hundred yards, then trots back. I get the feeling they’re too wrapped up in their pedaling to pay much mind to us.Joggers are another matter. I can think of half a dozen dog-free places to run nearby, starting with the high-school track, but that’s not enough for them. At least a third of the back-road runners we encounter feel compelled to yell. Bodie is friendly but does look rather feral, and runners tell me that dog owners, even if the critter is a snarling pit bull straining at a log chain, always assure them that the pooch is harmless. So I can see why they might be afraid. I can’t see why they need to keep yelling at us after it’s clear that Bodie means no harm.Where do they get this moral authority? They act as though they alone are virtuous. They seem to think they’re entitled to a pure running experience, even though there still might be deer, rattlesnakes, coyotes, skunks and cougars. They don’t seem to realize that they’re only part of a shared space – they want it all to themselves.Doubtless they’ll start agitating for dog-free zones. And it might be worth it if we could also establish some Lycra-free zones, where we mere dog-walkers could be spared the condescension of the self-righteous running class. Ed Quillen walks his dog and writes from Salida, Colo., where he is also an op-ed columnist for the Denver Post and publisher of Colorado Central magazine.
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