I just ordered a new pair of running shoes for the first time in about 4 years. Exciting news, right? Not really, but it did get me thinking about why its been so long. You see, when Amy and I moved to Maine from Minneapolis we were both pretty avid runners. I’ve run a couple of marathons and Amy has run four. We’ve both done a lot of other races ranging from 5k up to half marathons.
Putting aside the ridiculously cold winters, Minneapolis is a great city for runners. Spread across the whole city are numerous pedestrian trails. Right south of downtown there is a collection of lakes, surrounded and linked by trails that provides nearly infinite, convenient routes for runs from a couple of miles to double digit lengths. Water fountains are staggered along most of the trails along with the even more important bathrooms.
If you’ve ever run distance, you know what I mean when I talk about the importance of convenient bathrooms. Right?
So, Minneapolis was great for running. Prior to moving to Bangor, Maine we thought our new home would be even better. We thought there would be good places to run; we’d been told of some “great trails.” We assumed that being in a small city the traffic would be more manageable for pedestrians. We assumed small town people would be a little more friendly and gracious.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Turns out there are very few places in our city for a runner who wants to get out of traffic. The trails we were told about are short and populated with bath salts users. We do have one decent place to run, the City Forest, but that is actually quite a ways away from our home, outside of town. Not in the City. This doesn’t really work for me since we only have one car and Amy usually has it for work. That leaves running on city streets or sidewalks. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve almost been hit at intersections in this city by people who refuse to stop at stop signs; who drift through crosswalks. Pedestrians in this town are invisible.*
Pedestrians in this town are also not safe from dog owners. I’ve been nipped at and barked at and nearly tangled in four hundred foot long retractable leashes repeatedly while dog owners make placating sounds like “Don’t worry…he’s friendly!” This rather than just control their animals. Which brings us to, if not “the straw”, then one of the straws that broke the camel’s back, i.e. brought my running career to an end a few years back.
A Runner, a Family with Small Children, & a Rottweiler
I was running down the sidewalk in our neighborhood. Up ahead I spotted a group walking toward me composed of a father about my age, a girl of 11 or 12, and a boy of about 8. The girl, who probably weighed 60 pounds soaking wet, was walking a Rottweiler. My guess is that the Rotti weighed 90 pounds soaking dry. As I approached them, the family stopped and spread out, with the father going left, the girl and Rotti going right, and the little boy standing dead center in the path.
This is when I started to get nervous. See, I have quite a bit of experience with dogs; my friends call me The Dog Whisperer despite my lack of Mexican heritage. I knew in this case that
- Rottis can be highly protective
- The dog had seen me running towards his family probably putting him in guard mode
- Splitting the family the way they did would force me to go between the dog and family members, making the dog even more defensive
- The girl showed no ability to control the dog
- The dad did not look concerned at all, i.e. clueless about the situation he had created
I slowed from a run to a walk and carefully navigated between the dad and the little boy, putting as much distance between me and the dog as possible. That is when the dog lunged and snapped at me, nearly pulling the girl off her feet. I turned and stopped to face down the dog. The dog backed off and I turned to the father and said “You need to control your animal” and then walked/jogged away.
This is when things went off the rails.
Some People Shouldn’t Have Dogs… or Kids
In response to my comment, rather than apologize for my near mauling, the father lost it. He started walking after me yelling that I had no right to run on the sidewalk; that the sidewalks were for walking only.
I couldn’t believe it. I turned around and went back to him. I pointed out that there is almost no situation in which his dog biting me on a public sidewalk would be defensible. That his dog attacking me could lead to not only my injury, but the destruction of his dog. That his children might be impacted by seeing a violent altercation and by the resulting death of their loved pet. Further, that he should be careful about defining sidewalks as a “no running zone” since his children probably run on them daily.
This more or less shut him up. However, at this point I was done with my run that day. Over the next few weeks and months my running gradually came to a stop. The danger and annoyance factor just wasn’t worth it.
The (Childfree) Point
So, what does this have to do with being childfree? Well, one thing that comes up pretty frequently in the childfree vs. parent “wars” is the notion that the childfree have no right to comment on parenting. I personally think that this example illustrates exactly why, at least sometimes, we do get to comment on parenting (and dog ownership).
- We don’t need to be dog owners to know that you must train and control all dogs, especially large, strong, protective, and potentially aggressive breeds
- We don’t need to be dog owners or parents to know that putting an 11 year old girl on the end of a leash she can’t control is unacceptable
- We don’t need to be parents to know that you should teach your kids to apologize when you are responsible for almost injuring someone; You do not teach them to yell at or blame the victim
There it is. Wish me luck on my new return to running. If you don’t hear from me again google “man hit by car bit by dog”.
* This is true only if you are trying to follow the rules of the road as a pedestrian. If you are trying to jaywalk, drivers in this state will stop traffic anywhere to let pedestrians cross illegally! So, to recap, try to cross legally, get runover. Try to cross illegally, drivers will help you by stopping, getting out of their car, and carrying you across the road. They may even offer to buy you a beer.