Whose path is it anyways?

The gang on the path

It’s one of the ongoing issues faced by every neighbourhood dog owner.  Dogs need space to run and walk every day, and many of the handiest places are public parks and pathways.  Finding the perfect balance between people and pets requires cooperation and compromise, and occasionally it generates a bit of tension.

This morning Gus and I ended up on the path in the park near our house.  As it was a lazy Sunday morning, we were lucky enough to meet up with a few of our friends that we don’t see every day, due to our varying schedules.  Gus was ecstatic to run with Lucy, Phoenix and Skye, and I was delighted to have a chance to catch up with Shelley, Celine and Mary Lou.  All in all, it was a lovely social event; one of the moments when I really appreciate just how important all my dog-friends are in my life.

As you can see from the photo above, we created quite a presence on the pathway.  During the time we humans were chatting, the dogs alternated between running insanely among the trees, chilling at our feet, and generally just milling about in the general area.  Several people walked by us, and most of them greeted us warmly and smiled at the dogs.

At one point, however; a man approached on the path.  I didn’t know him, but didn’t think anything of it.  Gus, in his usual friendly manner, ran up to say a rather slobbery “hello.”  It was then that I realized that this man was definitely not a dog person.  He scowled at the dogs and grumbled as he walked by, and he pulled his hand away where Gus had touched him, as if he had been burned.  I think he also muttered “s–t!” rather loudly as he glared at Gus.

What followed was a rather lively discussion about who had the right to be on the path, and who should have given way at that particular moment.  We weighed the relative merits of municipal bylaws requiring dogs to be on leash, versus the generally accepted neighbourly understanding that exists in our park. Everyone had their own opinion on the situation.

So whose path is it?  When push comes to shove, I tend to defer to the law.  If there is a sign that says that dogs need to be on leash, then I will err on the side of caution.  After all, who wants to pay a fine?  I admit that most of the time I do let Gus run free, and he usually doesn’t bother anyone.  When I see someone who looks a bit apprehensive, I will always clip on his leash as a sign of respect.  He is a lot of dog, and if you don’t know his sweet and goofy nature, he can be a bit intimidating from a distance. I don’t want to upset anyone in the community.

In many areas of our lives we have to deal with “turf” issues.  It starts when we are toddlers and we have to learn how to share our toys.  We move on to the playground, the high school cafeteria, and finally the office, where we have to learn to manage the lines that separate our own sphere of responsibility from that of our co-workers.  In fact, these issues even spill over into family dynamics, where well-meaning siblings sometimes upset one another by overstepping unwritten boundaries without intending to.

The one thing in common with all of these situations is that there is rarely a clear answer to the question of whose turf is whose.  Even if there is, as with the bylaws in the park, reality often causes the lines to be blurred by other factors.  We are influenced by the heat of the moment, by history, by emotions or pride.  Sometimes we are able to step back off the path and let the non-dog person walk freely by, and at other times we feel compelled to stake our claim; even when we know it’s not really the right thing to do.

There’s harmony in our park every day because we all usually manage to figure it out. We have managed to work together to come to a mutual understanding, and a kind of balance in which everyone’s rights are respected for the most part.  As for those moments like this morning when the lines get crossed;  I hope that man won’t hold it against me or Gus.   After all, he only wanted to say hello!