It’s a bright, sunny morning. The weather app on my iPhone tells me it’s going to be a stinker. So before it becomes unbearable, I take my dogs for a walk first thing.
The three of us make our way onto our habitual route – through the park and onto the shared walk-bike path adjacent to the eastern freeway. I decide to go rogue and stay on the path instead of getting off at our usual spot to loop back home via residential streets.
This was a big mistake. Of course I did not know this at the time. Within a hundred metres, coming towards us from the other side of the path is a ball of fluff about four months old. You could tell it was well-loved. It had a floral-print ‘chief around its neck and it momentarily paused taking us in with is black beady eyes.
The puppy doesn’t register me, yet its face expresses exuberant delight: oh, here are two of my kind – whoopee! It bolts towards us, crossing over the forbidden white line. Thankfully there were no bikes whizzing by.
But soon a group of men in lycra ride past. I stop walking, so that the puppy stays with us and doesn’t tangle into the bikes. I yell out “This is not my dog” in case I get told off for not having my dog under ‘effective control’. I’m a responsible citizen and the irresponsibility of this puppy’s owner is stressing me out.
The puppy keeps circling us and pouncing in the typical doggie play position. After over a 100 metres of this, and only being able to move at a pace one would call shuffling, I no longer find it cute or its behaviour endearing. And neither do my dogs. My older one gets anxious, continually jumping on me.
The owner is nowhere in sight. And I now I think the puppy might be lost.
With cutesy noises I coax the puppy to come closer and as quick as lightning make to grab its collar with my one free hand. But the puppy is nimbler than me and its collar is hidden under the ‘chief, so on my first go a bunch of fur slips through my fingers.
Second time lucky, I hang onto the collar with my left hand, and stand on my dogs’ leads with my left foot, so I can have my right hand free. I use it take out my phone, and now I only have one limb free.
The collar is leather, beautiful – almost the same colour as the puppy. Its name and owner’s number is etched onto the collar, so it’s tricky to read, but possible were it not for the puppy’s flipping about. It’s twisting, turning – making the collar tighter – and whimpering loudly. With the trajectory of my luck this morning, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone were to report me for animal cruelty. I’m just waiting for it.
The puppy is fighting back, shaking me about as I try to punch the number into my phone with my right thumb, the remaining fingers hanging onto the phone for dear life. I only managed to get in four digits when the phone drops. Now I feel like whimpering too. But my hope gets restored when I see this couple, middle-aged, on their morning walk heading my way.
“Can you help me?” I ask feebly. I’m desperately hoping they’d agree to call the owner, while I held the dog with both hands and read out the numbers. But you know what they said? And very nonchalantly, might I add. “That’s our dog.”
Whatever was holding me together gave way. “Where have you been? Do you know your puppy has followed us for the last 10 minutes, stressing out my dogs? It should be on a lead! It could get hit by a bike!”
I let go of the puppy, thinking it’d run back to its owners. Another mistake. It still circles us, and totally ignores the commands mumbled by its owners.
The owners’ pathetic scramble to get hold of their dog boils my blood. It’s going to be up to me. The responsible citizen.
We are near an opening that makes its way into a residential street. I head that way, hoping the puppy will get the hint and stay on the path. Wishful thinking. It continues to follow us, and now I think a car might squash it. The owners don’t even bother to follow us. So I return to the grassy bit between the road and path.
Despite my lack of inner calm, I find I am continually thinking of what to do. The puppy is simply not understanding hooman.
Before I know it, my lizard brain takes over.
I leave my dogs on the grassy patch – I have to. And with my arms stretched above me, hands curved into paws and fingers clenched into claws, I charge at the puppy scream-growling and baring my teeth. The puppy face tells me it understands. That bear is going to eat me! Run! It scampers off to its owners – I hope – who still haven’t shown face.
My dogs, miraculously, have stayed put. I grab their leads and don’t look around to see whether anyone witnessed this animal-to-animal encounter. My cheeks are hot and I feel perspiration on my back, my heart in overdrive. After a minute or so, we continue on our walk, my head turning from side to side, wary of meeting the puppy again. Instead, we only meet two women walking a greyhound on a tight lead, who say “leave” as they walk past us.
Ahhh, civility. My heart rate returns to its normal rhythm, and my mind becomes free to reflect and process. Guilt arises. I hope the puppy is not traumatised. And I placate my traumatised self with this strongly held belief: that the only way to have dealt with the dilemma was to turn into an animal. And to laugh at my bear enactment.