Even though the Twin Cities are one of the most dog-friendly places I've ever had the pleasure of living, I noticed something about a year ago that I found rather disturbing. When I would walk Victor (pictured above) people would often comment on how big he is.
Now Victor is a fairly large dog, weighing in at a bit over 100 pounds, but by no means is he the biggest dog that's ever lived with me. For a little while in the in late '90's, I had three Caucasian Ovcharkas, Alexis, who weighed 170 pounds, and two of her puppies, Antares, who maxed out at 180 pounds, and Eltanin, who went on to a career with the Ontario Provincial Police as a takedown dog who at 11 months, tipped the scales at a rather impressive 175 pounds, with seven months of growing still in him.
What I found interesting was the number of people that would comment on what a big dog Roxie is.
Roxie isn't big.
In fact, Roxie, even though she's a Rottweiler stands smaller at the shoulder than the average Labrador Retriever. I mentioned yesterday that she only weighs around seventy pounds, which is less than the average Lab weighs.
After I'd been here a couple of months, it dawned on me.
Minnesota is the small dog capital of the world.
It became more apparent to me when I moved into my new neighborhood, which is chock-full of dogs... on some nearby streets judging from the amount of barking I hear when I walk by with my two faithful companions every third house is occupied by one or more dogs in addition to the human residents. After a week or so here, I noticed that the far and away majority of barking I was hearing was the high-pitched, yappy type that to me is the same as the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard.
The kind of barking that can only be produced by little dogs.
Little, tiny dogs.
(Mike's dog Murphy is not a little dog. He is a Doberman that happens to trapped in the body of a Boston Terrier)
Paris Hilton and that medium-sized rat she carries around in her purse that is supposedly a Chihuahua make me roll my eyes. That slutty pseudo-celebrity is personally responsible for the veritable explosion of trampy teenage girls with Chihuahuas as pets in this country over the last seven or eight years.
Dogs are not a fashion accessory.
At least they're not supposed to be.
The more time I spent walking my dogs over the last few months, the more I noticed how many "fashion accessory" dogs there are here... The aforementioned Chihuahuas, West Highland Terriers, (having an all-white dog is like having white carpeting in your house... it's going to be clean for about fifteen minutes, and then it will never be clean again, no matter how hard you try) Toy Yorkshire Terriers, Teacup Poodles, Havanese, Shih Tzu, Pomeranians, Maltese, Lhasa Apso, Brussels Griffon, Pekingese... the list goes on, including something that I've never seen before moving here... a seven pound abomination called a Norwegian Lundehund. Apparently, Norwegian Lundehunds have been nearly decimated by distemper on two occasions. In 1963 only six were alive in the entire world... five of them were from the same mother. Through a strict and careful breeding program, this breed is slowly growing in number again. Right now, there are somewhere between 1500 and 2000 of these dogs in the world... 1100 in Norway, and 350 in the United States. I would guess that most of that 350 are in Minnesota, because there at least ten in my neighborhood alone.
All of which are territorial little bastards.
This leads me to my first question:
1. Why is it that the smaller the dog is, the more shit it talks when it encounters a larger dog?
On our after-dinner walk each evening, Victor, Roxie and I follow the same route religiously. There is one house we pass where a truly evil Chihuahua lives, along with it's completely clueless owners. This little bastard has figured out that we will be passing by at roughly the same time every evening, and waits at a side window for us.
We hear the barking begin from a block away.
It increases in volume and intensity the closer we get.
As we pass the house, the "dog" races from room to room, barking furiously at us from every window it can reach.
The clueless owner is aware that we are walking by, and for reasons I cannot fathom, like clockwork, every evening the owner opens the door and lets her dog into the yard.
Now there is a four pound dog throwing itself against the fence, barking, growling and snapping, doing everything in its power to get through the fence so it can attack the three of us and run us out of its territory.
Each evening, I idly wondered what the owners reaction would be if her dog ever DID figure out a way to get through the fence and my two got hold of it. I wonder how mentally deficient she is to let her dog out when we walk by each evening... does she not realize that if her dog got out it would be dead within seconds?
A few days ago I decided to experiment, and see for myself if she was truly crazy, or just stupid.
We passed by, her dog followed us from window to window, and just like every other night, the side door opened, and mini-Cujo came storming up to the fence.
This time I stopped about ten feet past her fence.
Her dog, who by now was used to the three of us leaving it's territory while it talked shit at our retreating backs was driven to new heights of fury. My two had been ignoring the noise the little bastard made for a couple of weeks, and didn't even look in it's direction when we passed the fence. When I stopped, they both looked back at me quizzically.
I said: "Hold on guys, we're not going to get run off so easily this time. Sit."
They both sat. Victor ignored the little dog, Roxie alternated between glancing at the little dog, and a squirrel in a tree in the next yard.
Little dog was practically going into convulsions in it's attempt to drive away the "intruders".
After about 30 seconds the side door of the house opened, and the woman yelled "What are you doing to my dog?"
I said: "I'm not doing anything to your dog. Why do you let it out when you see us walking past EVERY NIGHT? It's obviously too aggressive for it's own good."
She said: "Oh, he just wants to play!"
She doesn't even know the difference between play behavior and pure aggression.
I said: "Your dog is not trying to play, if your dog could get through your fence I guarantee it would try to attack MY dogs, which wouldn't go very well for him..."
She said: "Then you shouldn't be walking vicious dogs without muzzles!"
Ah, yes. The completely clueless dog owner. The type of person who has a dog but shouldn't. The type of person whose dog usually ends up being hit by a car, or mauled by a larger dog it has attacked.
This leads to my second question:
2. Why do people who don't have a clue insist on walking their dogs off-leash?
There ARE dogs that are capable of being walked off-leash and kept under control by their owners through verbal commands alone. I know this, because I had this luxury with several dogs I have lived with in the past.
However, there are places where this is okay, and places it isn't. I had the opportunity to spend some time in rural Yellow Medicine County with Victor and Roxie over the last year, and it gave me great pleasure to allow the two of them the opportunity to run free, unencumbered by leashes, and get the chance to really get a good hard run:
My ex's sister is a dog owner who has a clue. Her family lives with a Collie named Botti who is easily the most obedient, well-trained dog I have had the pleasure of encountering in Minnesota. Victor & Roxie had the pleasure of off-leash runs with Botti on holidays, and several other occasions. However, if she were to be walking her dog off leash, and encountered another person walking their dog on leash at a distance I don't doubt for a second that if the other person requested that she leash Botti, she would do so immediately, even though Botti poses NO threat. She is aware of the fact that the OTHER person walking the dog doesn't know that and would accommodate that person's request.
This is in stark contrast to an encounter I had with a complete MORON about a week after I moved here.
The ONE redeeming factor to the crappy neighborhood I just moved away from was access to the walking and bike paths that follow Minnehaha Creek, and are a part of the Grand Rounds, a positively beautiful system of paved walking and bike trails that crisscross the city and connect most of the neighborhoods.
In the two weeks before Roxie joined us, I had started taking Victor for morning walks on this system of trails, and we had settled into a nice routine of exploring, and seeing where they went. Each morning, we encountered joggers, bicyclists, and yes, many other people walking leashed dogs. Keeping your dog leashed on the walking paths was a necessity, because the paths were heavily wooded, and because this particular one followed the creek, there were dozens of blind corners.
This particular morning Victor and I were about a third of the way into our walk and were on a relatively straight section of path that went through a heavily wooded area. Suddenly, from around a curve about one hundred yards ahead of us a large Golden Retriever appeared.
I immediately stopped and said: "Victor, sit."
He sat and looked up at me, his big plume of a tail gently swishing back and forth, while I watched the other dog, waiting to see if it was alone, or if there was a not very vigilant owner behind it.
The other dog spotted us, froze, and raised its tail straight up into the air like a flag. (For those who don't know, when a dog does this, it is doing so to make itself more visible. It is a sign of dominance.)
Victor sees this, and immediately stands up, raising his own tail, and his hackles as well.
Where the hell is this dog's owner?
I am now caught in a situation I am not happy with. I can't turn and go the other way, as the other dog will take it as a sign of submission, and will "chase" us out of what it considers to be "its" territory. Victor of course by this time considers these trails "his" territory, and also wants to protect me, the Alpha Male of his "pack" from what he now perceives as an intruder and possible threat.
He let out a low growl.
I said: "Quiet you."
He stopped growling, but took a step forward. I looked at the other dog, which had now begun to approach us slowly.
Where the hell is this dog's owner?
I was now beginning to weigh my options. Retreat was not one, as from the other dog's aggressive posture, it was going to start chasing us if we turned to go in the other direction. Sensing the potential for battle, getting Victor to willingly go in the opposite direction was going to be difficult.
Suddenly, a man in his 50's appeared from around the corner, talking on a cell phone. The other dog looked back at him, and waved it's tail back and forth once, a greeting wag, not an aggressive wag.
Incident averted, I thought. He'll call his dog back and leash him.
He didn't. He continued to walk towards Victor and I, still carrying on his cell phone conversation.
I raised my voice and said: "Sir! Would you mind leashing your dog?"
He ignored me, and continued to walk closer.
Maybe he didn't hear me.
"SIR!!! Will you please leash your dog?"
His dog was now about one hundred feet away from Victor and I and was baring it's teeth. Victor was now straining against his leash, and growling.
I decided to try giving the other dog commands, to see if I could at least get it to stop approaching.
"NO!!! NO!!! YOU STAY!!!"
He stopped, but didn't back off and held his aggressive posture.
His owner continued to walk towards us, still talking on his phone. His dog had again begun moving closer, about ninety feet away, and was no longer listening to me. The owner was close enough for me to hear his side of the phone conversation. He was talking about gardening of all things.
Now I was annoyed.
"SIR!!! WILL YOU PLEASE LEASH YOUR DOG!!!"
What happened next is something I will never forget.
He said to the person he was talking to: "Jim, hold on a second, I've just come across someone who's not sure about his dog."
I lost it.
I said: "NOT SURE ABOUT MY DOG??? MY DOG IS ON A FUCKING LEASH!!! MY DOG IS UNDER CONTROL!!! YOUR DOG ISN'T!!! NOW HANG UP YOUR FUCKING PHONE AND LEASH YOUR FUCKING DOG SO WE CAN WALK BY YOU WITHOUT BOTH DOGS GETTING INTO IT!!!"
He looked at me, his mouth agape. Apparently he had never encountered someone willing to confront him about what he was doing.
He said: "I don't leash my dog when I walk him."
I said: "ISN'T THAT THE FUCKING LAW??? ARE YOU SO STUPID THAT YOU CAN'T EVEN TELL THAT YOUR DOG IS EXHIBITING CLASSIC AGGRESSIVE TERRITORIAL BEHAVIOR? WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU???"
He said: "Jim, let me call you back..."
By this time another person with a dog had appeared around the corner behind him and come to a stop. It was an older woman I had encountered on previous morning walks, she had a well-behaved Bassett Hound that ignored Victor, and he ignored right back.
I took a deep breath and said: "Please grab your dog's collar and hold him so we can walk past you, and for the record, it's a law in this city that dogs have to be leashed if they are not in your fenced yard. I will be an even bigger pain in your ass if this ever happens again. You didn't even KNOW where your dog was for nearly a minute because you couldn't see him."
He grabbed his dog's collar, and I walked Victor around him. He looked at me with what appeared to be a strange combination of anger and defiance.
Of course, being from New York, I wasn't going to let that slide.
"Are you actually going to be stupid and say something you'll regret? Are you going to try to justify your illegal actions? Do yourself a favor and just keep your fucking mouth shut, you're out here with your dog unleashed, I don't see a rabies tag on his collar and you've managed to piss me off with your casual attitude. If the police get involved I see this ending with you getting a couple of tickets."
I pulled out my cell phone.
"Shall I call them and we can have them settle this?"
He said: "I don't think that will be necessary..."
I said: "Next time, I see you, your dog better be on a leash... asshole."
I walked on, a slightly evil smile spreading across my face.
As I got closer to the woman with the Bassett Hound, I could see that she was grinning from ear to ear. I felt a little bad, because I knew that she had heard everything I said to the guy, and it was liberally laced with profanity.
She said: "Thank you for doing that, he's out here every day, he never puts his dog on a leash, and his dog really isn't very friendly to other dogs."
I said: "Sorry about my language, but he just wasn't getting it..."
She said: "No, no... he deserved every word of it. I can't wait to tell people what you did!"
I never saw the guy or his dog again, other people I encountered over the next few days, said that he now walked his dog in the afternoon... and it was always leashed.
Sometimes, the New York Way of dealing with people is the best way... Even in the Midwest.
Next: Something Totally Random