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I wasn’t sure if I was going to speak on this incident on my blog because I try to keep it positive here and there are some topics that are so polarizing that it attracts wrong kind of attention and I honestly don't want to fight. But after a couple of days with this incident at the forefront of my mind, I decided to use my blog for what it was created – to share my thoughts and experience.
As an African American woman, my initial reaction to the video was outrage and shock. How DARE this woman threaten a black man by calling the police and then pretend like she was in trouble as she yanked her poor dog around – that was my initial takeaway. And, I said as much (and more) on Facebook, but as I was typing out my status update, I began thinking beyond my feelings.
Racism in the Dog Lover Community
I shared a blog post a couple of weeks ago entitled “No, you can’t effing put my dog!” This isn’t the first time I’ve shared it and I find that the response is interesting. While most people click over to read the blog post, there are a few who react to the image (a woman walking three dogs with the title of the blog post) and tell me that I’m selfish, or unkind, or that I shouldn’t have dogs if I don’t like people petting them.
The point of me sharing that is to say that some of us think that the dog lover community is a group of nice people who love dogs, but anyone who has spent any time on social media and followed a discussion on raw feeding or dog training knows that we’re a passionate bunch and can be nasty AF to each other.
So, yes, there is racism (sexism and just plain jerk-wadery) in the dog lover community and I’ve experienced it many times. Sometimes, a person is an out and out racist and sometimes the person is an a-hole who jumps to the insult that they think will hurt me the most. What they don’t understand is that many black people have been dealing with people like this for longer than we’ve had social media, so your snide comment is a disappointment, but it doesn’t ruin my day. Thanks, Facebook, for the “block” feature.
My Racism Tale
The story that comes to mind is when Rodrigo and Sydney were four months old. I was walking them on the Centennial Trail on a summer day surrounded by joggers, cyclists, and families. I had puppies and, back then, I loved it when people stopped to say “Hi.” I was socializing my dogs. On this day, I was speaking with a family of five (mom, dad, grandmother, and two kids) when a man started yelling at me from 50’ away.
“Keep your dogs under control!!! I will protect my dog!!! Me and my dog have been attacked before and I have a right to protect myself!!! Keep your dogs away!!!”
My dogs were sitting next to me. They weren’t lunging towards the man. They didn’t even notice him because they were distracted by the family that I was speaking with and a bit tired because this was the end of their walk.
This wasn’t the first time I’d had an encounter with this man that day and I said as much to the father of the family. “What’s his problem?” Finally, as he came closer, someone in our group asked him why he was yelling at me. My puppies weren’t a bother, what’s up? The guy screamed “you don’t know what I’ve had to deal with and I’ve spoken to her before!!!” Yeah, he yelled at me earlier in the day to stay away as he and his dog were jogging past. The conversation became insulting, the jogger lobbied some threats and the father chased him away.
It was nuts.
We exchanged phone numbers just in case the guy came back and not long after, I received a call from the police sharing a complaint that a black woman with two pit bulls tried to send her dogs after this man and his dogs.
If you’ve been following my blog, then I have to ask – do Rodrigo and Sydney (pictured above) look like pit bulls?
This situation was problematic on many levels:
- With all the people walking dogs on the trail that day, this white man only had an issue with me and became aggressive with me, the only black person. Why?
- Breed discrimination is real and to throw a breed under the bus in an effort to make the police take your claim more seriously is a dangerous step and a dick move.
Nothing came of the incident. It didn't occur to me to film the guy and public shaming on social media wasn't a big thing back then. For a while, J walked with me on the trail and I only encountered the man a couple more times (he kept his distance) and I’ve never seen him again. That was 10 years ago and I couldn’t pick him up out of a line up today. But the incident made an impression.
And it’s that incident that was in the forefront of my mind when I read an article about the Central Park incident that occurred on Memorial Day.
Central Park 2020
Fast forward 10 years and social media comes alive as they share a video of a woman yanking her dog around as she tries to convince the police over the phone that an African American man is threatening her.
I’m not going to get into the racial ramifications of this interaction or the powerful Cancel Culture that took action. Everyone has an opinion and that’s okay – we need to continue discussions bigotry, social media, and cancel culture in this country.
I decided to write a blog post to Monday Morning Quarterback the interaction in an effort to help us prevent future interactions from spinning out of control.
Keeping Our Dogs on Leash
Plenty of people walk their dogs off leash. Some have amazingly behaved dogs that don’t venture far from their human and many, like me, have zero control of their dogs. A common thing I see in my community are people walking their dogs off leash and then leashing their dogs when they see another person or dog walker. Not only does this control the situation, it keeps everyone safe. Plus, in many areas, it’s the law.
I will admit that I used to break this law with glee and roll my eyes at anyone who complained. Good grief – what’s the big deal? Well, the big deal is that an uncontrolled off leash dog is dangerous. I was walking three dogs when an off leash dog raced towards me at high speed – she was a friendly girl, but I got tense, my dogs picked up on my tension, and they became aggressive. Thankfully, I was able to quickly extract myself and my dogs from the situation and no one got hurt, but it could have gotten bad. That experience was a wakeup call for me and I now always have my dogs on leash.
In an ideal situation, when the woman came across someone, she would have put her dog on leash until they gained some distance.
Walking Dogs Off Leash isn't the Only Way to Exercise a Dog
I'm back to update this post because I remembered that the woman walked her dog off leash to make sure the dog got enough exercise. I used to believe this myth too. Now, I'm certain that there are high activity dogs that can benefit from a long hike or walk off leash, but I'm thinking of my five dogs, which are all sleeping around me and we haven't gotten a good exercise in yet for the day.
Adorable, lazy bums.
Today, Keep the Tail Wagging reader Kathryn L said: “a 30 min walk on a 8-15′ leash where the dog is allowed to sniff any time can tire a dog out just as much as an off leash romp.” And I agree. Sometimes, I just want to walk a long, brisk walk out with my dogs, but I've learned to go on those walks alone and stomp it out while listening to an audiobook. When I'm walking my dogs, I allow them to sniff because we're exercising their bodies and their brains. When end up walking longer than expected, it's a nice walk because I'm not constantly spurring them along, and it's a great way to explore our environment. I saw a chipmunk the other day and there is a snake that sleeps in the sun about a 1/4 away every sunny day.
- Why it's Important to Let Your Dog Sniff During Walks
- The Importance of ‘Scent Walks' for Your Dogs
- Why You Should Let Your Dogs Sniff During Walks
Don’t Offer a Stranger’s Dog a Treat
I read the man’s account of the interaction and his statement about luring the dog to him with treats was creepy, to say the least, and I can understand the woman being concerned. I don't think his intentions were to cause harm, but I can understand being afraid and why take a chance? There are two things that could have happened here:
- She should have leashed up her dog and walked away – fast. Get away from creepy people, go to a well populated area, and if you still feel afraid, call the police.
- Instead of trying to lure her dog, he could have walked way, fast, went to an area that didn’t have off leash dogs, and if he still felt the dog was an issue, call the police.
The point of these steps is to avoid a confrontation. As a woman who often walks her dogs alone, I’m surprised by the number of times I’ve felt vulnerable. I had a man following me and yelling insults one afternoon. My phone was dead and I was afraid to drive home in case he followed me. One of my dogs freaked (Zoey) and pulled away so hard that she came out of her leash and ran. It was an awful afternoon, but I got my dogs together and quickly got out of there and called the police when I got home. In another situation, Rodrigo ran out into a busy road and nearly got hit by a car because I lost grip of his leash.
It’s better to get to a safe place first instead of confronting someone who you feel is being aggressive and may be a danger to you or your dog. And, in my experiences, I've learned to call the police if I'm still shook by the interaction because if the person is treating you this way, they may be treating others this way too.
Now, About the Dog Treats
My dogs are on a special diet formulated by me. I’m not a fan of them eating treats from strangers because they're usually treats I would NEVER feed my dogs and there are some sickos out there who get off on poisoning dogs. The statements the man made to the woman when he tried to lure her dog.
“Look, if you’re going to do what you want, I’m going to do what I want, but you’re not going to like it,” Christian recalled saying. Source: NYDailyNews.com
That’s a scary statement and it does sound threatening without knowing exactly what happened beyond his account of the interaction and prior to the recording. So, just don’t offer dog treats to dogs you don’t know. Treats can exacerbate a health issue, they can derail training, and it’s overstepping. I would never go up to a stranger’s child and offer them ice cream. That’s creepy.
Protecting Our Dogs is #1
Watching the video was challenging and not just because of the words. I couldn't take my eyes off of how she was handling her dog. Yanking the dog around, holding it up by the collar or harness and seemingly choking the dog, and through her actions, creating a stressful situation for the dog. She was obviously freaking out about something and my heart broke for the dog. Hey, I'm a Deranged Dog Lady and I love dogs.
In past instances where I've had aggressive encounters with people, one thing that I learned to keep in mind is that my dogs are following my lead and if I tell them through my energy, voice, and body language that we're in danger, then their stress levels are going to be amped up along with mine and it's not good for them. It may seem impossible to keep your cool during a stressful encounter, but it's important because keeping cool keeps my dogs from freaking the hell out and developing a fear of an area or of strangers.
During an encounter, I keep my voice calm, constantly reminding myself that my dogs are reading me, and I get away from the person that I perceive as the aggressor. It's easy to say “why do I have to leave?” But it's not about me, it's about my dogs. If my dogs get stressed out and away from me, they could run away, they could run into oncoming traffic, or they could bite the person out of fear and protecting me. So I walk away, keeping as calm as I can. Once I get into my car, I feel a lot safer and in control.
Start Going on Pack Walks
We're sheltering in place so it may seem like a pack walk is impossible, but if you're in an area where you can create space between you and another human, then a pack walk may be a great idea. And, a pack walk doesn't have to include other dogs. Open this up to friends who need to get out or who want to lose weight, The point of doing this is to have a second person with you at all times. This is a great way to avoid confrontations – no one approaches me when I walk with my friend who has Standard Poodles – we have way too many dogs. And I feel safer when I walk with friends.
Who is Right / Who is Wrong?
One facet of today's Cancel Culture is that we have to take a side and if enough of us take one side, we can destroy lives as we work together to right what is perceived to be an injustice. At this point, everyone has settled on an opinion of who is right and who is wrong. That's not the point of this blog post.
My point is that once I was able to step back and consider the facts of what happened, I saw many points along the way where this interaction could have been de-escalated and both parties could have returned to their enjoyment of the day. I recently read that the woman surrendered the dog to a rescue, which is sad. If she could do this all over again, would she walk away, knowing that she was going to lose her dog? I hope that the dog is okay and finds a new home quickly.
Tensions are high and I've learned from personal experience that we're all going to encounter jerks as we walk the path of a pet parent (no, I'm not passing judgment on the man in Central Park). It's important to remember that we have a responsibility to protect ourselves and protect our dogs. Sometimes, the best way to do this is to follow the leash laws and walk away, fast, when it looks like things are spinning out of control.