Around the corner from where I live, there’s a middle school with a track and a large, open field. On the weekends, it’s a lovely spot for dog walking. My Heinrich, also known as ‘Hippo,’ is a beautiful, blue nose pit bull. He may look intimidating to some, but he just wants to love, play, and act like a clown.
Hippo also loves the grass. He loves to smell it, roll in it, eat it, lie down in it… It’s quite comical. We have to cross a parking lot and walk along a grassy pathway that eventually leads down a hill to the track.
Just like every other Sunday, I walked Hippo along this pathway, smiling at the other people as we passed them. His nose was to the ground, and I could tell he was searching for the right spot to take a dump. (Sorry, but that’s exactly what he was doing.) He stopped at a tuft of taller grass that he particularly enjoys, and I stood next to him, waiting to clean up.
Out of nowhere I hear a somewhat harsh voice say, “Can you move your dog?”
I looked up, and I saw that there were three people setting up a picnic under a tree – a mother, a father, and a little girl around 8 or 9 years old. Hippo and I were at least 8 feet away from them, if not further. The person speaking to me was the mother; and while I didn’t care for her tone, I smiled at her and politely said, “We’re just heading down to the track. It looks like he needs to potty, and then we’ll be on our way.”
“No, NOW,” she said. “Get him out of here NOW! He just growled at me, and I don’t want him anywhere near my daughter.”
“Ummm… Excuse me?” I said, “Are you serious?”
Hippo had not growled at her – he hadn’t even noticed her until she initiated contact with me. As long as I’ve had him, he has never growled at anyone. Yes, he’s a pit bull; but unless you’re a cat or a squirrel, you are in no danger of him being aggressive. None. He’s a 70-pound marshmallow.
“Yes, I’m serious,” she replied. “You think this is a joke? You bring a dangerous dog next to me who growls and threatens my daughter, and you think that’s funny? Why are you walking here? You have this entire field in front of you, why are you walking near us? You think you and your dog have more of a right to be here than we do?”
I was officially angry.
“First of all, he did not growl at you.” I said. “He didn’t even look in your direction. He is not dangerous, and I would not be walking him here if he were. Second of all, why do YOU have more of a right to be here than I do? This is a public place, and there are several other people here walking their dogs.”
“We were here first! Why are you walking him towards us?” At this point, she was screaming at me. Literally screaming, gesturing, and getting closer to me the more she spoke. “You have this whole area to walk in, why are you here?”
“Ma’am, I was on my way down to the track when you felt the need to initiate this lovely conversation. Believe me, I would not have lingered here otherwise.”
“I saw you walking towards us from all the way over there!” She shouted, and pointed at the street where I’d come from. “You had no need to come this close to us, other than to ruin our day!”
“Okay, seriously – I walk this path every weekend. I live around the corner, we walk from the street, through the grass, down to the track. I was not deliberately walking towards you. I didn’t even see you until you started barking at me to move.”
To which the husband stepped in and said, “You wouldn’t have been walking towards us if it hadn’t been deliberate.”
I’m sure my jaw was on the ground. “That doesn’t even make sense,” I said to him. “Like I already said, I come here every weekend and walk the same path – whether there are people in the general vicinity or not, this is a public place and I’m not going to worry about being ‘too close’ to anyone when I’m 8 feet away and my dog is trying to take a shit.”
“Oh great,” shouted the wife, “so you’re going to let him take a shit and then walk off and leave it there?”
I held up my roll of doggy bags that I always carry with me. “What do you think these are?” I asked. “I never leave his crap lying around, thank you.”
“Well, I just saw him take a shit over there, and you just walked away,” she yelled.
Now she’s just making things up, and I’ve surpassed anger. I’m livid. “You are flat-out LYING,” I said to her. “And you know it.”
“You’re a disrespectful little bitch,” she shouted. “You have no respect for anyone or anything! You don’t respect yourself or your dog. No one wants you here, and no one wants your dog here. If you had any respect, you’d have just kept walking. You think anyone likes you or your damn dog? Why are you trying to push yourself on us? We don’t want you here. You need to take your white cracker-ass back to the hole you crawled out of.”
Now I’m not only livid, I’m in shock. I have never in my life encountered a stranger who has spoken to me like this – not ever. The only coherent words I could form are, “I’m sorry, was that a derogatory racial remark?”
“You’re the racist one,” she screamed. “You’re racist against me, and that’s why you came over here with your dog!”
I don’t feel the need to disclose the ethnicity of this family, because it’s not relevant. To be honest, I hadn’t really registered their “race,” until she decided to grasp at that straw. Yes, I could tell that they were not Caucasian, and I had my guess about their ethnic beliefs due to their clothing; but I saw them as human beings – like myself. At least until the situation escalated.
I tried to calmly say, “Ma’am, race has nothing to do with the fact that you’re screaming at a total stranger over nothing. We’re all members of the human race, and you should not assume that I’m ‘white’ simply because I have pale skin. That’s discrimination on your end, not mine.”
“You’re the whitest white person I’ve ever seen,” she yelled. “You know nothing about race. You don’t know what race I am! Why are you still here? No one wants you here, no one cares about you or your dog. If you had any respect for anything, you would have just kept walking.”
“That’s what I was TRYING TO DO,” I said. Yes, I raised my voice, and I was aware that she was starting to repeat herself. “Seriously, what is your problem?”
“We don’t want your dog around our daughter,” said the husband. “She was bitten by a dog, and we don’t trust them.”
“Okay, fine,” I said to him. “But my dog is not going to bite her – ”
“We don’t know you, we don’t know your dog – how are we supposed to know what its thinking?” he interrupted.
“Well, I know my dog,” I replied. “You don’t like dogs, that’s your choice. But you can’t come to a public place and shout at people for walking ‘too close’ to you. I’m not going anywhere – and neither are people who own dogs.”
“My husband doesn’t want to talk to you,” the wife shouted. “You think you’re going to get him to like you? He doesn’t like you. My daughter doesn’t like you – nobody likes you!”
“I don’t give a shit if you like me,” I said. “And you’re setting a miserable example for your daughter, teaching her that it’s acceptable to treat people this way.”
I’ll add that this little girl hadn’t uttered a word, but quietly stood and observed this entire scenario from behind her parents. I saw her look at me – and at Hippo – several times, with more apparent curiosity than fear. But hey, what do I know?
“Oh, so now you’re questioning my abilities as a mother? You think you have a right to tell me how to raise my daughter? You know nothing about me or my daughter.”
I remember shaking my head in disbelief at this point, and laughing to myself at the absurdity of what was happening.
A middle-aged gentleman had been making his way over to us, also walking his dog. As he approached us, I made eye contact with him. His expression was sympathetic, and I could tell that he was coming to my defense. He looked at the couple, and said – “What is your problem? She was minding her own business, and just walking by. I’ve overheard everything you’ve been shouting at her, and you are way out of line.”
Needless to say, the mother unleashed her venom on him too, going for the obvious – “Who the hell are you? Why are you getting involved? This is none of your business, and no one cares what you have to say.”
I wish I could say that my sympathizer was calm and eloquent in his responses… But he was not. He took a very low road, and the race card was definitely played. To be fair, he was called a “stupid, lazy, alcoholic redneck,” but still – his degrading remarks about this couple’s race were tasteless and unnecessary.
Among other things, this woman called me a disrespectful bitch, an entitled American, and best of all – a sloppy cunt. I told her she was an irrational, judgmental, miserable excuse for a human being. To which she replied, “You think I care what you think or say? Get your ugly ass and your rabid dog away from me. You have RUINED our day!”
Throughout this entire encounter, Hippo had been sitting patiently at my feet. He was just sitting, his gaze traveling between whoever happened to be shouting the loudest, and the dogs on the track that he wanted to go down and greet.
I remember looking over at the man who’d come to my aid. While the couple was still shouting at both of us, he said to me – “Just walk away, darlin’. You’re never going to change their minds. People like this, they’re all the same. Just walk away, and let them think they’ve won.”
I thanked him for coming to my defense. He said, “I hope you can somehow have a better day.”
As I reflect back, I believe the reasons I hadn’t walked away sooner were fairly simple: A.) I was shocked that this was actually happening. I felt frozen in place, like I needed to somehow snap out of a horrible dream. B.) I wanted my voice to be heard, and this woman wasn’t listening to me. I wanted to defend myself, and instead I was being irrationally screamed at and constantly interrupted. No one was giving me a chance to speak, and this is one of my biggest triggers. Being silenced enrages me.
I wish I had the ability to walk away from encounters like this, and not feel like the scum of the earth. Logically, I know that this had very little to do with me, or my sweet dog. Emotionally, I search for the reason. Why was I the person who happened to be walking by this family at that exact moment? What awful thing did I do, to deserve such hateful venom from a complete stranger? Is there a reason behind things like this happening? If so, I’d love to be enlightened. Instead, I feel violated.
Given my superhuman memory, I’m not going to forget about this – ever. And honestly, it’s infuriating that according to this couple, I’M the villain – and in their story, I always will be.
I’m not sharing this experience in seek pity or sympathy. I’m simply hoping that processing it through my most fluent language – the written word – I will be able to let it go.
Here’s to some serious hoping.