The dogs in my Brooklyn neighborhood have it good. Birdie, Phoebe, Izzy, Charlie, Shady, Bluey, Ricky, Lacey, and even the dogs with names that don’t have an “e” sound at the end, are all treated like royalty.
They are free to roam off-leash almost every morning. Their perfectly groomed coats glisten in the sun as they accept fancy treats that their owner’s produce out of elaborate fanny packs. They are even talked to like they have human-level intelligence.
“Do you think you’ll want more water in a few minutes, Phoebe? Should we circle back to the water fountain later, after we play with your friend Charlie? Just let me know.”
If these dogs are to be treated like they have critical thinking skills, fine. If they are going to have more expensive haircuts, better dental care, and wear nicer clothes than me, that’s cool, too. They just can’t also be allowed to pee on me.
That’s what I found myself thinking one morning, sitting under a tree in the park, as a terrier named Bentley marked his territory at my feet. The stream didn’t make direct contact with my body, but my left leg caught some splatter. Was it cat urine or dog urine that carried that deadly disease that kills pregnant women? I couldn’t remember, but I was sure to look it up after going home and taking a Silkwood Shower.
I let out a “hey!” and gently shoved Bentley away. I turned my head and searched for his owner.
A tall woman with a visor power walked by, flashing a smile: “So sorry about that! Come on, Bentley! Come on!”
She sped past, and in a few seconds, she was around the bend in the walking path.
I thought she might rush over and put Bentley on a leash. I figured she’d at least chastise him for urinating on a fellow park goer. Perhaps a punishment was in store later, and he would be forced to dry dog food that night instead of filet mignon.
Bentley and I glared at each other for a few more seconds, neither wanting to give up what we rightfully believed was our territory. Me, because I was there first, and finders keepers. Bentley, because he had peed on me, so why on earth would I not move? He had a point, but I was stubborn. I had paper towels to wipe my leg. I wasn’t going anywhere.
Eventually, he tottered away. At the pace he was moving, he’d catch up to his owner in about an hour. Who knows what kind of terror he would wreak along the way.
Watching him leave, I imagined what would have happened to my childhood dog if he had peed on a random person.
When I was around 11, our golden retriever, Calvin, pooped in the house.
My dad was gardening in the back yard. I was slinking around the kitchen, hoping I wouldn’t be asked to help. I noticed a little turd near the kitchen window, but before I could clean it up, my dad noticed too.
My Dad is one of the kindest, most gentle humans I’ve ever met. That all went out the window when walked by the sliding glass door and saw the feces. He turned into a Guantanamo Bay interrogator, quickly leaning down to swat Calvin’s nose with the full force of his open hand.
“Why did you do that! Bad! No! You do not do that!”
He shoved Calvin’s nose toward the poop. Calvin stared at his movement with a scared, but curious, expression. He wasn’t the smartest dog.
“What is this substance?” he seemed to be thinking. “It smells interesting. Better have a taste.”
He extended his tongue, and thwack! Another slap to the snout.
“Now you want to eat it?!”
My dad lifted Calvin straight off the ground and pinned him up against the wall, holding him by the front paws. He screamed into his face.
“You poop outside! Bad dog! You. Do Not. Shit. In the house!”
Calvin took this in stride. He wore a bemused, quizzical look. It’s like he knew something was off, but he was also getting a nice release in his lower back due to the way his legs were dangling. He wasn’t stressing it too hard.
I, on the other hand, was unsettled. Who was this man, who so rarely raised his voice, and never swore, treating the dog like a criminal he caught reaching into his back pocket on a crowded train?
“Dad, you’re hurting him!”
While still pinning Calvin to the wall, he chastised me from over his shoulder.
“This is how they learn. You’ve got to show them who the alpha male is!”
If my dad owned Bentley, and he caught him peeing on someone in the park, it would have been on.
The incident occurred near the lake in Prospect Park. I could see my dad heaving the little dog into the water. With a yelp, Bentley would emerge, gasping for breath, while my father taught him a lesson from the shore.
“You got that person wet, and now you’re wet! Eye for an eye, you mangy piece of shit! How does it feel? You’re lucky it’s not winter!”
My dad is not cruel. He always loved our pets and treated them well. He just thought that tough discipline was the only way to maintain the hierarchy between man and beast. That’s how I thought everyone dealt with their animals. I had clearly never been to Brooklyn.
These dogs don’t suffer beatings. It actually doesn’t seem like they suffer, period. I think half of the household spending in my neighborhood goes toward canine healthcare.
There is one regular park goer, a German Shepard, who marches around using only her two front legs. Her injured hind legs are cradled in form fitting sockets, part of a wheeled contraption that appears to have been custom made at great expense. She always looks quite pleased with her setup, and she plays with the other dogs like she has four healthy legs.
Better yet is Roger, a Chocolate Lab who coasts through the park while sitting in a tricked out wagon, looking like an emperor in a chariot. His ride is outfitted with a cushy blanket and a water bowl. He sits upright and dignified as his
servants owners labor to pull him from place to place, which looks like it takes no small amount of muscle power.
One day, as Roger entered the park, I heard a neighbor check in on him.
“Hey! How’s old Roger doing with his arthritis?”
“Pretty good. We take him swimming at the pool every day, so he’s maintaining his strength.”
Swimming! At a pool! Pools are hard to come by in NYC. I saw a “pop up” pool one time this summer, near the Brooklyn Pier. About 75 people were crammed into a 15 by 20 pool, holding their children and elbowing for room so that their little ones could bob with their floaties. This was a quickly constructed above ground pool, with rusty aluminum siding. It sat directly below a massive highway. Such is the appetite for pool going in New York.
Overhearing this, I was surprised. How do you even find a pool that accepts dogs? And who were these people, so focused on providing physical therapy for a pet? Don’t they have anything better to do?
Then, I took stock of my situation. I was shirtless, wearing toe shoes, and hanging from a tree branch. I was taking loud breaths and craning my neck back and forth so as to better mobilize my shoulder muscles. It was 11 AM on a Tuesday. Kids at summer camp were giving me weird looks, but I hardly noticed them as I eavesdropped on the conversations people were having about their dogs.
Maybe Roger’s owners aren’t so odd. Maybe we all have our quirks.
“Can you believe that grown man who’s always out in the middle of the day, topless, swinging from tree branches and grunting?” the owners probably say, sitting poolside and giving Roger his afternoon deep tissue massage.
“Doesn’t he have anything better to do?”