Thursday, May 6, 2010

It takes a village to water a dog

Over the years, my dog walking duties have taken me to many many suburban neighborhoods. Some are filled with modest homes and big old trees shading the streets and some feature McMansions with uppity copper trim on the windows. One thing all the locales have in common: lawns.

Lawns are as varied as the people who own them. There's the putting green style lawn and the fairway style lawn. Then there's the family lawn, a study in sturdy survival under swing sets and games of catch. The lazy or environmentally fanatical go for the weird succulents xeroscape or the hardy ground covers separated by brick pathways.

Dogs and lawns are not always an amiable match. (The lawns themselves are almost always civil, it's just some lawn owners who are hostile.) Having walked dogs since childhood and professionally for about fifteen years, I think I have studied a large enough sample to say with certainty that most dogs go potty, number one and/or number two, while on a walk. Naturally, I carry poop bags with me for the eventuality of number twos. Number one is another matter. Let's just say the lawn will have to absorb that occurrence.

This elimination stuff is where things can get unpleasant on the lawn front. Once I was walking a very large black mutt named Jed. Jed lived with five or six cats and was an affable lug. He didn't look it to the casual observer, he looked big and strong and serious. Still, as Jed defecated and I was pulling a poop bag out of my back pocket a man ran screaming towards us and didn't stop until he was standing toe to toe with me. He yelled in my face, "you let your dog take a shit on people's lawns?"

"Yes," I said. "Then I pick it up."

Meanwhile, Jed was still going.

The man shrieked, "but you let him shit on people's lawns!"

"Yes," I repeated. "Then I pick it up."

By now Jed was done and stood there uninterested in our conversation. The man backed up a step and sputtered. "You're an asshole!" he said.

I said, "no sir. You are an asshole."

His lips moved but he made no sound. He grimaced and balled his hands into fists. Still, he was too flummoxed to speak. Suddenly he turned and fled, then vanished through the front door of his house. I bent down and picked up Jed's effort.

Then one day I was walking an old customer in his new neighborhood. This is another big easy going dog, though with Roger it is more obvious. Roger is a Golden Retriever. He is a little unusual in that he squats to urinate. Apparently he never learned how to lift his leg. Then he was neutered and it became unnecessary to go through all that strenuous marking. So when he tinkled on this guy's lawn he emptied his bladder. The guy came flying out of his front door, almost as though he had been lying in wait for just such a crime to be committed.

"Hey!" He was yelling at me, not Roger. Indeed, Roger appeared to be invisible to him. "That's a new lawn!"

You know how sometimes you just don't have a response? This was one of those times.

The man moved closer, even though Roger had finished and had moved between us.

"What am I gonna do about my lawn?" the man demanded. He put his hands on his hips. It was probably a pose more prissy than he intended.

I pointed to a loosely coiled hose mere feet away. Roger and I walked on.

The man shook his fist at me and yelled, "screw you, lady!"

Still at a loss for words, I blew him a kiss.

Winston's neighborhood does not have sidewalks. It still has lawns, of course. It was a brisk day, I remember I was wearing gloves and carrying a loaded poop bag. A man stood in his driveway holding a long handled garden tool. He waved at me and said pleasantly, "hello neighbor."

I responded in kind. The man walked down his driveway to the street. He informed me that he was the president of the neighborhood watch group. The garden tool in his hand was one of those fork things. The points of the three tines looked sharp. The man rubbed the tines with a rag. The gesture was vaguely threatening yet oddly comical.

He said, "I don't think dogs should be allowed to relieve themselves on people's lawns." He jerked his head at the bag in my hand. "Even if you pick it up."

I said, "well, there's probably lots of things about neighbors that can be annoying. For instance, I don't like the sound of a bouncing basketball after ten pm. " I smiled at the man with the garden tool.

Winston the Wheaten Terrier stood beside me, calmly watching us.

Still moving the rag on his tool the president of the neighborhood watch group questioned me- where did I live, did I always take the same route when I walked, etc. When he learned I was working, that Winston was my client and I was his dog walker, he suggested that it wasn't legal. I assured him it was. He repeated his belief that dogs should not be allowed to walk and mess on lawns. Punctuating with his garden fork, he told me he didn't like the fact that I was doing it for money.

I suggested he take it up with his vice president.

He said, "what do you mean?"

"The vice president of your neighborhood group," I said pleasantly.

Finally he stopped rubbing his tool and pointed at Winston. "This is Fran's dog?"

"Yes," I said and walked toward Winston's and Fran's house.

Now it is mid spring. The lawns are so lush this time of year.

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