I consider myself a good dog owner. I always scoop poop. I buy a dog license each year. I exercise my dog daily to keep him healthy and happy.
I also consider myself to be a good law-abiding citizen. My friends and family will vouch for me when I say that I am a lousy liar and that I always follow rules, sometimes to the extreme.
However, there is one bylaw I do occassionally break, and as a result there are some who would consider me to be an irresponsible dog-owner.
You see, I sometimes allow my dog to run off-leash.
(There, I've said it. What a relief.)
In the six years I've been breaking this bylaw I had yet to meet up with the dreaded 'dog police'. All that good luck came to an end last week.
It was one of those remarkably crisp, clear, early spring days. Winston and I headed down to the beach to stretch our legs and enjoy the break in the weather. We were wandering down the beach when we ran into another springer spaniel and her owner, who was an acquaintance from the neighbourhood.
The other dog-owner and I quickly engaged in conversation about the joys of owning springer spaniels. So engrossed were we in conversation that we didn't notice the dog police until after our dogs had run up and greeted them. Off-leash, of course.
I sighed deeply and reached out my hand to accept my ticket. I knew that we weren't allowed on the beach and that being off-leash was a no-no. I figured that I'd been lucky for 6 years, and that if I amortized all our leash-less walks over that time - well, it really only cost me pennies per walk.
My dog-walking friend, however, had a different take on the situation. He immediately started talking. "I'm so glad we ran into you," he said.
I tried not to look as startled as I felt. I waited to see where he was going with this.
"You see," he continued. "I've often wondered what the rules were for walking dogs on the beach."
I kept my eyes glued to the ground. Hadn't he noticed the signs all over the park telling us that dogs weren't allowed on the beach?
One of the dog-police patiently began to recite the law to him, while the other began filling out our tickets.
"Ohhh," my friend said, after having the law explained to him. "Thank you so much for letting me know! You guys are doing the community such a service. There are so many irresponsible dog-owners out here. I don't know what this park would look like if it weren't for you keeping all us dog-owners in line."
At this point I noticed the puzzled glance that the two dog-police exchanged. Then one reached over and checked the tag on Winston's collar. "2006," he noted.
"I have a 2008 tag, honestly," I told him, sheepishly. And I do. "But it's still sitting on my desk. Right beside the 2007 one."
The dog-police person turned to my friend with raised eyebrows. "And you?" he asked, his nod noting Ruby's lack of any tag."Oh dear," my friend says, shoulders sagging. "You see, we have four collars for Ruby. Every time she gets wet we change her collar. But we only have one dog license. Hey," he says, looking brighter, "do you think I could order extra dog licenses next year?"
"No," Dog Police #1 says. "May I suggest you keep Ruby's license with your car keys from now on. Then you will always have it with you."
"Great idea!" my friend says.
The dog-police turned to me again. "Please put your dog on leash," one of them says. As I lean over to clip Winston to his leash I wonder what my friend will do. I'd noted that he didn't even have a leash with him, but when I stood back up, I saw that Ruby was now attached to the end of a leather leash.
As I pondered the miraculous appearance of the leash, my friend continued to chat away about how wonderful the dog-police were, and how he appreciated how hard they worked. He might even have mentioned how good-looking they were. Eventually the one with the pad of tickets stuck them in his back pocket. "We're going to let you off with just a warning today," he said. "But please remember not to allow your dogs to run free on the beach again. And get those dog licenses on them."
"Thank you so much," my friend says, shaking their hands effusively. As we walk away, he says, quietly, "My pants are about to fall down."
It's then that I notice that Ruby's leash is not really a leash at all. It's her owner's belt. I hadn't even noticed my friend slide it off, and clearly the dog-police hadn't either. Between bellows of laughter I asked whether Ruby really had 4 collars. "Are you kidding?" he said. "Ruby's never even been licensed."
"You just have to kill 'em with kindness," he explained. It works every time."
Postscript ~ the moral of this story is not that lying and breaking laws is recommended but in this incident, everyone got what they wanted. My dog now proudly wears his 2008 license. I will no longer be walking him on the beach, on or off-leash. But it could have ended a lot uglier, with harsh words and expensive fines. The kind words made all the difference.