The return of Julia Sugarbaker…-

Where do I start?

I love dogs.  I am, by natural inclination, a dog person.  I am such a dog person that, as James Thurber said, “all felines can tell this at a glance – a sharp, vindictive glance.”

It follows, regrettably, that my adult life has been spent wishing I could have a dog (even an assistance dog for J, which would be SO helpful) and having to fend them off while dealing with J’s dog-related anxiety issues.

As I have commented in the past, there is a leash law in effect in our county.  Our community also requires that dogs are kept on leashes.  It has become increasingly obvious that people flout this rule on a daily basis.

We have the guy four doors up the street from ours.  He regularly opens his patio doors and allows his two rambunctious dogs to run freely over the lawn in back of the units.  There is the young professional couple who plays Nerf ball catch with their energetic Jack Russell Terrier.  There are the three guys who have two German Shepherd puppies and one small dog that they allow out sans leash.  There are the girls who open their patio doors to let their little yip-yip dogs run around and do their business, and there’s the big black Labrador.  There are others…but these few are the closest ones to what I like to refer to as J’s vicinity.

You might (or might not) remember the sudden appearance of a rather large St. Bernard that sent J climbing on top of his mother.  I don’t want to exaggerate, but that dog had the same friendly disposition as Cujo, and it was loud.  Outings, after that moment, became more difficult because J looks for a leash when he sees a dog, and not seeing a leash means the dog could decide to run.    Regardless of how significantly bigger than the average dog J is, his eidetic memory (and his Autism) always go back to that memory of the One Dog and the One Owner, and the memory of the One Dog and the One Owner affects his opinion of all other dogs and owners.

Yes, J is prejudiced.  No, I don’t like prejudice, but this is a prejudice that, sadly, I cannot temper more than I already have.  Believe me, friends, I try.  I am the person who asks J to make eye contact, take deep breaths, and TRUST ME.  I have even tried doing it in the same way that Marlon Brando does it in Don Juan de Marco when he’s negotiating with Johnny Depp to not jump.  J buys it…to a certain point.  The smaller the dog, the greater the fear.  Maybe, and I’ve argued this before, it’s the high-pitched, insistent barking that these rather small creatures are capable of…like Joe Pesci throwing his weight around in movies

Let me set the scene for yesterday: every day, right before we exercise, I open the garage door so that J can breathe some fresh air, see the state of the weather, and maybe take a turn outside.  We usually take a walk after exercising, but this sets a nice tone for him.  J sits on the step that leads into the garage as he puts his shoes on, and I talk to him about how nice/rainy/windy/warm/cold the day is.  So it was in the midst of this that, like in a movie dream sequence, FOUR dogs run from two different directions to meet about 50 yards from where we’re sitting.  Chasing the black Labrador is a girl who looks alarmed because there are two German Shepherds and one nondescript small breed about to meet her dog in the middle of the parking lot.  The impression I got, from the human reactions to this sudden convergence of unleashed dogs, was that a dogfight about to ensue.

J let out a high-pitched squeal that sent me running to the switch for the garage door.  No one out there noticed this because, as usual, they were focused on the social interaction at hand.  I asked J to do his yoga breathing, and I went to look at the scene developing in the parking lot and green areas through the front door’s window.  I expected to see something different from what greeted my eyes: all the owners and all the dogs were happily chatting away.  They looked like they were about to break into song.  Another dog owner came out, and there was her little canine…cavorting with the rest.

I picked up the phone and dialed the landlord’s number.  I left a rather angry message.  “This is Mrs. So-and-So from such and such address and I’d like to know if there is no longer a rule about keeping dogs on leashes when they are in common areas.”

Did he return your call?  He didn’t return mine either.  That is how little concern this man feels for anything I say “hey, this shit is screwed up.”  You’d think that we haven’t been paying an exorbitant amount of money in rent to live in his property for the past five years.  (I think we’ve put his daughter through an Ivy League college…or we’ve bought him a rather nice luxury vehicle with all the bells and whistles, plus the insurance and maintenance…)

J and I exercised, and then -after checking the landscape for any more dogs- we ventured outside.  All the cars that had been out there at the time of the dog convention were gone, and it was a fairly safe moment to step out.  I say fairly safe because people here drive like crap, too fast, distracted by their cellphones, there are no sidewalks or crosswalks, and I told the landlord about this in March (after a neighbor almost ran us over…see entry of March 17 or 18 for more details.)  He promised at the time he’d put up signs; then he said he had the signs; then he said he was about to put them up in the coming week and…

But I digress…

In spite of the imminent danger posed by dogs and humans, we made it to the mailbox unscathed.  I know people think we walk like little old ladies.  This is because we stop and look both ways before crossing (an effective method if no one dashes by at high speed and not looking,) and because we wait clear out of the way if we see a vehicle approaching.  I don’t care what people think because the most important thing is that J stays safe, and it’s my job to keep that a priority.

When we got to the mailbox, lo and behold, there goes my reputation for being socially adept: we ran into the property manager.  This young lady is always Instagram ready; she has a lazy smile and a certain way of draping herself over bannisters, tables, chairs, etc. while a tenant talks to her that is reminiscent of how my cats act while I try to tell them to not barf on the furniture.  It is rather evident, from the way she smiles and looks at her interlocutor, that she is bored to death with the interaction, and she thinks it’s beneath her.

The same girl who had the sun-shiniest smile EVER when she trilled OH HI! at me was positively deflated by the time I was done. I didn’t curse. I didn’t raise my voice. I was wearing my sunglasses but I can guarantee you she KNEW the look in my eyes when she said “oh, well…that guy has shock collars.”

And then, ladies and gentlemen, there she was…my inner Julia Sugarbaker.

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I shook my head NO.  I then proceeded to explain to her, in as kind a tone as I was capable of mustering, that a shock collar and a leash are NOT the same thing, and that I can reason with her, with each and every neighbor, but reasoning with J is a little harder.  I granted her that THEY are not responsible for J’s genetic makeup, or for the resulting shortcomings in his intellectual and emotional capacity, but there is no law that restricts J walking freely (which he doesn’t do because he is ALWAYS supervised.)  The dog owners’ rights, I told her, to let their canines run around freely are curtailed by an agreement made with the property management company, and with the government agency that regulates dog licensing.

On the way home (after J anxiously looked over his shoulder when he heard the young lady’s jingling key chain…it sounded like dog tags,) I realized that I am probably the biggest asshole in the neighborhood.

I can totally live with that.

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