I had pretty big paws to fill when I met my human. Maybe you know her – her name’s Cathy and I understand she’s kind of mouthy and opinionated. Her last dog was a Dalmatian. Some of you may remember Madison, affectionately called “Mad Dog.” She was, apparently, a wonderful companion, but she had… well, she had some issues. She was an orphan, and later, the adopted child of a divorce. She grew cranky in her old age, which, to your two-legged readers out there, means leash-aggressive and food-aggressive. Cathy was the alpha dog, but Mad Dog ranked a close second.
Mad Dog didn’t go to dog parks much; she attacked another dog when it came too close to Cathy. Cathy would sneak her down to the non-dog beaches at Fort DeSoto. Mad Dog stopped going to Art Walks, too, heading downtown only when it wasn’t busy, and even then not on a leash. She was perfect under voice command, but on a leash she was mean.
That probably explains why, when I entered the picture, Cathy was a little strict. And by “a little” I mean a lot. She would squirt me with water when we went for bike rides and I barked at other cyclists. And man, if you know me, you know I love to bark. I mean, the Twilight Bark is my favorite thing; it doesn’t even need to be twilight. Cathy also keeps me on a short leash when we go somewhere crowded (and how lucky was Mad Dog to live in Gulfport when things weren’t always crowded downtown, but that’s another column altogether). Worse, sometimes she picks me up and carries me, like I’m a baby. Or a Yorkie.
The thing is, it’s so unfair. Other dogs get to do whatever they want downtown. I’ve seen them. They can wrap their leashes around people’s legs, or stretch across the sidewalk. I mean, yes, people trip, but still, it must be nice to have all that freedom. And dogs are free to be dogs, you know? I mean, sure, sometimes that results in things like people getting bit when they try to break up a dog fight, or certain dogs having “reputations” and apparently that’s why none of us can go into the library anymore, but wow… I wish I could do whatever I wanted, consequences be damned.
Of course, I’m pretty lucky, as far as dogs go. Cathy and El Cap have taken me on a 5,000-mile, cross-Florida journey in a camper. We paddle board, boat, and kayak. El Cap’s mother even bought me a life jacket: pink with polka dots. I go pretty much everywhere and yes, I sleep on the bed even though I have three of my own. I also lick the bowls before they go in the dishwasher, but please don’t tell El Cap. Gulfport Bikes reinforced what Cathy calls my “Wizard of Oz” wicker bike basket so I can ride bikes with them. We’ve been up and down the Pinellas Trail and yes, I barked my fool head off the whole way. I’m allowed to Tweet, and I have my own Facebook page. I’ve eaten a snake skin, get to go to Gulfport Elementary where kids read to me and pet me and let me lick their hands, and I sometimes even get to race through tunnels and almost catch rats. I am a lucky dog.
Even so, sometimes I just want to chill, you know? When downtown gets crowded, I don’t want to be there, because there are way too many people for my tastes. This is one of the few times I don’t mind her carrying me instead of letting me explore. When it’s that crowded downtown, it’s no fun for me, and I can’t imagine it’s much better for the people trying not to step on me or get tangled in my leash.
The other day I overheard something that chilled me to my little puppy bones. Cathy was talking to a friend of hers who said she and some of her friends from Clearwater came downtown for ArtWalk, and the dogs were everywhere. Cool, right? Well, this lady didn’t think it was so wonderful, even though she’s always been super nice to me and seems like she loves dogs. She was talking about how people brought their dogs downtown and then failed to pay attention to how they behaved. That seems pretty cool, I thought, but then I head something else: that these visitors said they wouldn’t be back to an ArtWalk because it was too hard to navigate the leashes.
That’s when I realized that sometimes I get left at home not just because it’s not fun for me at a crowded ArtWalk, but because I really shouldn’t be there. I realize I have a right to be there, of course – I’m lucky I live in the dog-friendliest town in the world – but I was forgetting that rights come with responsibilities. I guess that means I have a responsibility not to go places where my leash could be a hazard, or that I have a responsibility to behave myself really, really well when I’m eating at a local restaurant.
Of course, I’m a dog. So ultimately, it’s Cathy’s job to make sure I behave well enough to be welcome downtown. Do me a favor, guys? I’m lousy at communicating with her. Could you ask your humans to tell her? Because, well, you know… she’s sweet, but she’s human, and sometimes she doesn’t think about these things.
Thanks. Oh, and seriously, don’t mention the “licking dishes” thing. That can just be our secret.