Tuesday, December 02, 2003

My Life With a Dog

Katy and Jason Having a dog affects the way you interact with the world. For some reason, a furry, four-legged beast tethered to your wrist transforms you into an entirely different category of person. After experiencing the dramatic social shift that occurs when accompanied by my dog, I now understand the true meaning behind the term “man’s best friend.”

First of all, let me clear up a common misconception. When you look at the facts, ‘man’ must refer to all of mankind. For all genders and variations thereof act like they are my dog’s best friend. Why else would they come up to her and start putting their hands all over her like they were intimate acquaintances?

During this process, they also feel like they need to make small talk with me. Being such good friends with my dog, they must also want to get better acquainted with her legal guardian – perhaps to make sure I am a good provider, companion, etc. Regardless, my faithful companion somehow breaks the code of silence that usually exists between complete strangers.

With Katy at my side, I have had many conversations with people I would normally pass by on the street as we both safely averted our gazes down and to the side. Of course, Katy does encourage it. She likes meeting people – all kinds of people. And she is pretty non-discriminating – from well-to-do old ladies to a homeless man sleeping in the park.

Adoption photoIt also doesn’t hurt that she looks friendly. All dog’s start out friendly looking – how more friendly can you get than a puppy? However, the attitude towards some breeds changes dramatically once the puppy stage is over. No matter how friendly an adult Pit Bull, Rottweiler or Doberman really is, they still give me pause. Katy has no such trouble. Goofy-looking dogs usually don’t generate a lot of fear, and as a Border Collie – Greyhound mix, she easily defines the category.

The effect that dogs have on people goes both ways – not just towards the complete strangers, but also towards the owner. As I dedicate the time to write this piece, I am beginning to wonder if this act makes me a dog freak. I would rather be a freak with a dog, than a dog freak. Dog freaks are usually weird, fanatical and a bit scary.

If you want to understand what I mean by scary, try visiting a local dog park. The dog park I frequent is host to a cornucopia of interesting characters. There is the egotistical east coaster dog walker who yells profanities at the dogs when they misbehave. His short temper and foul mouth are equaled by an older Scottish lady, who vocally asserts her Scottish heritage as justification for her ill-mannered behavior – much to the chagrin of other Scots I imagine.

However, all the characters pale in comparison to the Poop Man. No kowtowing to the socially conditioned approvals of others, the Poop Man fulfills his moniker each day – barefoot, bare-chested and armed with a stick and common grocery store bag that is sagging under the weight of the park’s orphan poop.

Like some sort of twisted superhero, Poop Man is always there to save a shoe from smelly ruin. And I do mean always. I frequent two different dog parks, and more often that not, I see him at each one making the park safe for its two-footed patrons. Whether saint or insane, he faithfully goes about his duty each day.

Now, I don’t know what kind of person I expect would devote his life to aggregating canine excrement, but it’s not Poop Man. First of all, he doesn’t have good tools. A stick and flimsy plastic grocery bag? That seems like an ad hoc solution ill-suited for long-term application.

If I were Poop Man, I would have a stainless steel scooper and heavy-duty bag. I would also wear shoes and a shirt. Then again, I also wouldn’t be someone who spends his day cleaning up after careless dog owners. But that’s what Poop Man does daily, outfitted solely in bright red shorts and an orange visor.

Hanging around his waist are his only accoutrements: a cell phone and portable radio blaring Christian talk radio for all to hear. The richness of the spectacle is enhanced by the combination of so many disparate elements.

Any two alone would seem odd together: "shirtless man blaring Christian talk radio," "shoeless man picking up all the park’s poop," "seemingly homeless man being able to afford a cell phone but not a pooper scooper." I'd love to hear his story sometime, but until my dog and he meet, social rules forbid us from speaking.

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