As Cali and I were walking to the park, we saw a woman with a small terrier-looking dog. I said hello and she did too. Cali was taking a long sniff of the grass near some trash bins, so I moved aside to let them pass.
As we walked behind them, I noticed that the little dog kept picking up his rear right paw. He had impeccable leash manners, which means that the woman wouldn’t be able to see his back paws, since he was walking right next to her (paying attention, Cali?). Also, despite a lot of rain this winter, dry season has arrived. Stiff grass stubble is everywhere, as are foxtails. Cali comes home from walks full of tiny burrs. In other words, prickly things that could easily get embedded in a paw are everywhere.
So I said to the woman, “Your dog is picking up his paw; he might have something stuck in it.”
Her reply: “I’m a good pet owner.”
Is it me or was that an oddly hostile and/or defensive response? Quashing the impulse to say something defensive in return, I said, “I thought he might have a thorn or something in it. That happens to my dog a lot around here.”
She softened a little, I think, and told me that her dog has a congenital knee problem and that’s why he does that.
But, really, is the assumption that I am criticizing your parenting the go-to response for most people? That’s a sad comment on society.
Or maybe it is me. Because, a few blocks later, we encountered another dog walker. As I tend to, I detoured into the street to avoid passing close to an unfamiliar dog on a narrow stretch of the sidewalk. The other walker said, two or three times, “He’s friendly.”
When we were closer, I said, “My dog is nervous around unfamiliar dogs.”
All perfectly normal … except the implication that I was assuming negative things about her dog. Do I radiate an air of disapproval and judgment? (Please do not answer that question.)
The last encounter in this bizarrely social morning was at the park. This time, Cali was the jerk, running off an overly friendly poodle who showed too much interest in her ball. The joke was on Cali, though, because, while she was running him off and then I was reprimanding her, Maui, a dog Cali used to consider a friend, actually stole her ball. We beat an embarrassed retreat before she could challenge Maui to a duel.
I am going back to 7 a.m. walks; the park is empty and the other dog walkers are also trying to avoid dog encounters. That all makes it easier to avoid offending the entire dog and dog-owning population of Petaluma.