Pope Francis



“If a dog will not come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your conscience.”
Woodrow Wilson (28th President of the United States)

No Dogs Allowed

I saw you. For the record it wasn’t the first time I watched your little yapping dog do his you-know-what on our new front lawn.  Well, here’s my little secret: I just ordered “keep your dog off the grass” signs from Amazon.com. These $12.95 each purchases have pictures on them, too; yea, pictures of dogs with their dog butts high in the air. Ha!

This neighbor’s got a beautiful lawn, a perfect lawn.  No crab grass, no bald spots for him.  Ours?  Not so great anymore with a 5’ x 5’ patch next to the sidewalk where it’s all bare, yellow and yucky.  My husband and I might as well designate our front lawn a dog park.  I know I sound like a dog hater, like I’m some-kind-of Clint Eastwood Grand Torino curmudgeon, but I’m not; I’m a dog lover! A dog saver! A dog champion!  

When our kids were young, our family had a big, friendly, shiny-coated black Lab for twelve and a half years.  This six month old female puppy followed our son home from school.  When my husband came home from work, our two children and I all begged him to let us keep her.  We had a good argument: she was cute, house-trained, didn’t bark, and three out of the four of us thought she was wonderful from the first pat. My husband grimaced at the idea of letting a stray stay. “This dog has issues; I can tell by the way she looks at me.”  What he really meant was that from the start this animal had him figured out because when my husband entered the room where she was lying this self-possessed dog - we named Beauty - didn’t move and only opened one eye to acknowledge his presence.  It was pretty funny watching her alpha-female-game of playing hard-to-get.

Once she became a permanent family member Beauty often tortured my husband.  For example, on many Sundays our little family often went out for the day.  Before our departure, my husband gave his commands to Beauty. “Listen you short-haired-female-always trying to look innocent-sniffing-machine,” stay in the kitchen, do you understand?”  Then, at the kitchen’s entrance, my husband would painstakingly construct a baby gate and rope contraption that resembled a do-it-yourself  Graterford Prison.  All the while, from ground level mind you, Beauty’s one vigilant eye studied my husband’s technique of confinement designed to keep her off the family room couch as she eye-balled said couch with her other eye.  I observed all this posturing nonchalantly from the foyer chuckling to myself about who would win this game.

When we returned four or five hours later from our outing, Beauty greeted us at the front door, tail going, and pieces of rope proudly dangling from her mouth.  We all roared with laughter and fussed profusely over her magnificent Houdini performance. Well, almost everyone.  I’d like to say I didn’t rub it in.  “Not so dumb after all is she, Master of the House?”  I grinned.

Beauty was a good dog - all things considered.  Okay, sometimes she turned a little naughty especially when her favorite scent of fresh horse manure was carried on a passing breeze.  Then, like her fur was on fire, she took off from the back patio for this nearby horse farm. When our pet returned - many wicked hours later – she would slink all the way down the wooded hill in the rear of our house to return to her sunny patio spot.  I’d shake my head from side-to-side and smile before heading outside for these, her occasional reprimands. “Beauty, just what kind of girl are you?  Have you no shame?”  She would wag her tail affirmatively and give a little yelp.  After I got a whiff of the horse “you-know-what” I always grabbed the outdoor hose and chased her around the yard for a scrubdown.  Oh, those were the sweet days.

As I look back now, with more awareness of my past cavalier attitude as a dog owner, I’m reconsidering my intolerance of my neighbor’s entitlement. We folks in the psych field are supposed to do that.  So maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t such a great dog owner after all and not just for allowing our dog to run off the way she did.  Forgive me, old neighbors, as I publically confess my insensitive attitude back then about how rarely our “free range dog” was hungry at the end of the day due to the fact that she had sampled so many of your great garbage pails!

Well, possibly my yesteryear cool indifference actually did catch up with me because today I wiped the cataracts of denial from my eyes and recollected a walk I took on Valley Forge Mountain where I allowed Beauty to tag along.  On that particular day a nearby neighbor and her “leashed pedigreed poodle” drew back in joint horrified fear as I approached with my “unleashed no-papers Lab.”  This arms waving screaming neighbor then proceeded to point at me as though she were staring at Cerberus, the Greek three-headed monster dog! This neighbor shrieked unspeakable things, despicable things about my dog, my no leash policy, my free-range attitude, her spilled trash cans - me!  In that moment I was traumatized, I pounded my chest mea culpa. I yelled - “it wasn’t my dog’s fault.  Blame me! I’m horrible! I’m two-faced! OMG, I’m the dirty dog!”  

As you might imagine, I didn’t hang around for anymore self-flogging humiliation and quickly picked up my pace. Yes, as a psychotherapist of considerable self-awareness I whispered to myself, “Keep your head high, Mary Jane, and keep those baby blues straight ahead because it’s the best response for managing an escalating situation with any hysterical person.”

So, I suppose after this little rant and self-disclosure I’m eating a piece of that well-known humble pie because maybe I was just as wrong back in the day as my neighbor is today.  Nevertheless, with a dollop of plea on my pie, maybe I should just ask my neighbor to please keep his yelping, yapping, yipping dog off my lawn unless, of course, he named his dog Beauty. Then I’ll consider his furry friend’s business my karma.

Published in The SandPaper, February 3, 2016

Published in Aronimink & Green Countrie Living, April 2016