Scars of a Different Nature

By Suzy Barile

Fourth grade was a memorable school year – both a boy and a dog bit me, leaving two quite different scars.

Along the hairline on the left side of my forehead is a barely distinguishable spot that is compliments of my classmate Frank, who ran into me during a game of Red Rover on the playground of Cranston-Calvert Elementary School in Newport, RI. His two front teeth broke open my skin, leaving a small gash that required several stitches.

The other scar, from the dog who ran up behind me as I headed home from Rosie’s Corner Store with Popsicles for my siblings on the last day of school, was lasting: To this day, I am terrified of dogs.

All dogs fit in this category, including our own, which we adopted from the SPCA when she was 2-months-old. Even as a puppy, she could move me to tears with her growling, such as the morning I attempted to get her to come inside while leaving outside a nasty something-or-other she’d found on the ground.

Now 11-1/2-years-old and with arthritis in all four legs, Sandy hardly seems a threat, unless you try to take food away from her and elicit that ferocious growl, or you pull onto our street. Then she begins barking like there’s no tomorrow, warning us that “danger” is near. That danger includes our long-time neighbors arriving home from anywhere, delivery trucks with such loads as furniture, pizza and packages, fire and rescue vehicles, the town’s trash and recycling collectors, visitors, other dogs, and us.

Quite frankly, I think Sandy is near-sighted, for it isn’t until my husband or I get closer that her franticness turns into a yelp of recognition. And it’s clear to us that whoever first owned her wore a baseball cap, and abused her, for the approach of someone in one sends her over the edge.

When strangers reach our front door, they do a double-take at a scene reminiscent of a guard dog protecting its owners’ possessions, then back away while we put her safely upstairs behind a gate, where she continues barking. Once she is comfortable, she calms down to a whimper as if to say, “Ok, now I want to join in the fun.”

As the victim of a childhood bite, I fully understand how people passing by on the greenway behind our house are sometimes taken aback when a loudly barking dog runs towards them – until her 25-feet of leash stops her abruptly. If I am anywhere near, I tell her to quiet down and bring her inside. And when we are on her daily walk and someone approaches, whether with dog or without, I make certain her leash is reined in tightly so she won’t jump – her favorite greeting for those she doesn’t consider a threat.

What I do not comprehend, also because I am the victim of a childhood dog bite, is those folks who feel free to let their pets run loose on the greenway. A family with one small and three large dogs keeps only the small one on a leash. Whether the husband, the wife, or the son is with them, they stroll along with the smaller dog while the other three wander into nearby back yards or sniff along the edge of the creek that runs beside the path.

If Sandy and I are walking and see them coming, I take one of several tacts: I turn and head the other way, because I want nothing to do with loose dogs. Or I stop until the three large ones are hooked to leashes, then stay put until they pass. Only once have I remarked that there is a leash law in Cary. That was a big mistake. I was told in no uncertain terms that some dogs behave quite well when off a leash, and it obviously isn’t mine.

Such a response reminded me of the day a young woman who frequently runs with her dog trotting alongside suddenly noticed her pet gone, bounding across the creek. No matter which commanding entreaty she made, it was clear her obedient pet had no intention of returning until he had finished with whatever he was doing. At the training school Sandy attended but did not graduate from, the instructor reminded us that dogs are animals and they won’t always respond to a command.

Another time when I was chatting with our neighbor as Sandy pulled and tugged at the leash, signaling she was ready for us to go, I glimpsed a woman approaching out of the corner of my eye, then saw her dog several yards ahead, and off its leash.

“Will you please put your dog on the leash?” I asked.

She called me a b----, told me hers’ was well-behaved, and walked on.

I was as speechless then as the day Sandy and I encountered a large Labrador retriever barreling towards us. Stopping in my tracks, I hollered, “Call your dog, please call your dog.”

When the owner finally did so, he also called me a few unsavory names and continued on his way.

Perhaps I am too cautious. Perhaps I need to take the same chances with my dog that another neighbor did the afternoon she was talking on a cell phone as her pet tore across a large, grassy expanse towards us, then stopped, took one sniff of Sandy, and lunged at her.

“Call your dog! Call your dog!” I cried frantically as I tried to pull mine away from the biting teeth of hers.

She was speechless and motionless, taken aback by the scene taking place.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” she said, as she got her dog under control.

I merely nodded and reminded her, “That’s why there’s a leash law.”

Sometimes I wish it were the mark on my soul that is indistinguishable, not the one on my forehead that has faded with the years. But surely I am not the only one who wants dog owners to remember that the town’s leash law pertains to all of Cary, not just its public areas.

Though a greenway or play area might be owned and maintained by the subdivision it is part of, the town’s leash law applies: All dogs must be on a leash or lead if they are not on the owner’s property.

(Copyright 2000)

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