leashes can be neighborly


            I read about a woman in Massachusetts who wants her town to pass a leash law for cats.  She’s seen one bluebird after another meet its end in the teeth of a roving feline. I’m reminded of Jonathan Francens’ protagonist, Walter, and his hilarious efforts on behalf of the birds.  When Francens spoke in Pittsburgh last fall, he, actually, donated his considerable fee to a bird sanctuary.  Frankly, I sympathize.

            Despite leash laws for dogs, however, many owners feel as I did in my pre-blind life, that a dog’s nature demands that it run free.  Since, I’ve become an advocate of leash laws, even a real ideologue about it.  You can imagine that my exertions are about as ineffectual as porr Walter’s, and probably much less funny.

            My daughter told me of a high school friend who took her 3 dogs to the park and put leashes on them.  She never held the other end, however. They just might have been the killer dogs I met as I meandered harmlessly along a trail with my “leashed” guide dog, which loses all guiding decorum when confronted with dogs after her throat.

            But worst are the punt kick dogs on Marlborough Road.  They run free on the street and, of course, into our yard for purposes of defecation.  How innocent these little darlings are—so small, like accessories to their owners’ fashion statements.

            Two of them bark endlessly from their owners’ front porch.  Elderly neighbors complain to no avail.  I, in fact, asked once if the owner would plunk the pooches on the back porch so they might not bark so steadily or uproariously. 

            As a Deaf-blind person, I hear nothing while they yap—no car motors coming up or down the street, or out of driveways, no telephone poles that echo my footsteps.  With my hearing loss, two sounds colliding means that I hear neither. 

            This neighbor’s dogs occasionally break free from their porch confinement. 

            “They really wouldn’t hurt a flea,” the wife says, after my dog jumped and prepared to meet the attackers, making me trip and fall into a flowerbed. “They just want to play.”

            “Gr-r-r-r.”  I sent a mental message to the mutts that I’ll daintily remove their vocal cords and possibly a few legs next time they come after my dog. 

            And to my request that sweet-ums 1 and 2 bark from the back porch, Mommy answers, “Oh, they just love sitting on the front porch.  But tell you what—just give me a call every time you go out, and I’ll bring them inside.”

            I was tempted to call her every half hour for about a week, but just sighed and still seethe.

            And then there’s another dog with a Napoleonic complex.  My German shepherds always seem to be great targets for him.  He likes to charge from his porch, too.  And I love his owners.

            But as I hurry off to teach my classes and Napoleon strikes, my dog whirls. Napoleon snarls and thunders, and I think Flossie knows it’s bluster.  But she has turned, and I’m way out of alignment on our quiet street and have no clue where east, west, north, or south are.

            Part of the problem is that people have the notion, as I did, that dogs deserve to roam freely.  Another part is that owners think small dogs aren’t biters or attackers or, in any way, menaces.

            But the largest part of the problem is people’s notions of guide dogs.  Through their training, people think they’ve lost all canine instincts.  But, ah, folks, they are all dog, all the time.  They certainly are better-behaved in harness, but they will still break away to chase a cat, squirrel, rabbit or other dog.  Their nature is still that of domesticated wolf.  My latest dog, Flossie, barks and tries to intimidate other dogs, though we restrain her and stop the barking ASAP.

            Most of the time people spy guide dogs riding quietly on buses, sitting perfectly under a restaurant table. But they have all the desires of regular dogs—to steal food, get into garbage, fight with other animals, and mostly to play like the goofballs they are. When another beast, however down-sized charges after them, they want to fight or flee.  Since I grip the harness and leash firmly, fleeing isn’t usually an option, so they prepare to defend themselves.

            So like Walter in Freedom, I ask for leashes.  Many years ago my German shepherd, Ursula, was attacked by two unleashed hounds just before the intersection of Forbes and Murray.  And these dogs were biting her.  She lay on the ground screaming like a smoke detector.  Guide dogs are trained to be gentle—they are bred for that personality.

            I, however, was bred otherwise, and I punched and swung at those dogs.  The man came slinking up and grabbed their collars, and I swung at him.  I never connected which is the tragedy of blindness, but every pedestrian in Squirrel Hill gave him a tongue-lashing that he’ll never forget.  Ursula wasn’t physically hurt, but emotionally, she was battle -weary.  She had PTSD for nine months.  If she even saw a dachshund ahead, she turned 180 degrees to come home.

            Therefore, leashes can be neighborly.  Please.

            Finally, I’m remembering my blog from earlier this week. I hope I’m not setting a theme for abuse to the disabled.  I don’t want to give that impression.  In my circle of friends there are many blind people with wicked canes!  Beware.

About Sally Hobart Alexander

Blinded at the age of twenty-six, I left California and elementary school teaching for life in Pittsburgh, Pa. There, I met my husband, got a Masters' degree in social work, had two kids, now 35 and 32, and became a writer. Surprisingly, the writing career led me full-circle to teaching, and I teach in Chatham University's M.F.A. program and lead two writing critique groups. Always, since the age of 26, I have traveled, not in the stereotypic darkness attributed to blindness, but a mist. My blog then, "traveling through the mist" will deal with issues in my culturally different life as a blind writer, teacher, speaker, and human being.
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