A dog ballet is performed every morning in Oak Park — really all day, every day. The choreographed canine-and-walker dance goes like this: A dog and its owner walk down a block. Looking ahead to the next corner, they see … another dog and its owner.
Dog-walk-dance etiquette is clear. The dog and person nearest to a corner should take the next turn and clear a path for the approaching dog and owner.
Occasionally, dog walkers who are not paying attention ignore the protocol and end up playing chicken, two dogs heading toward one another. Dogs are optimists. How could a little sniff hurt? It’s the owners who know when a dog doesn’t play well.
A breach of protocol and an advancing dog can require a mid-block reassessment. Do I do the polite thing and cross the street? The problem is that dogs, like people, can carry a lot of baggage.
Take Lola, my daughter’s mixed-pointer who visits Oak Park from Ann Arbor, Michigan. She could care less about people, including me. Lola’s DNA has her programmed for hunting squirrels.
Just today, she nearly triumphed. She isolated a squirrel on a bench at Lindberg Park. The squirrel made a narrow escape — zigzagging to a tree, Lola in hot pursuit.
She continued to the next bush, hoping to flush a rabbit.
Also, Lola has something dark in her past, what I call doggy PTSD. Her playing, especially with big dogs, turns first to roughhousing, then growling, and then out-and-out dog-fighting.
Lola has a past. She was a rescue, a stray found in a farmer’s field in winter, with puppies, and next to a deer carcass she had been feeding on.
Lola does not react well to being charged by other dogs. So I go out of my way to avoid oncoming dogs.
Except for this one woman who always has her dog off leash at Lindberg. Every park has someone like her. They are convinced that their dog’s psychological well-being demands freedom from a leash. They believe their dog is elite, triumphant, and more moral than all the leashed dogs.
Her dog, a big yellow lab, runs up to other dogs on leash at Lindberg. Usually the woman shouts, “Don’t worry. He’s friendly. He won’t hurt you.”
The unleashed yellow lab ran toward Lola.
I put myself between Lola and the yellow lab. Lola gave her most ferocious growl, bared her teeth, snapping.
The yellow lab, oblivious, ran into the vortex and after a few snaps from Lola, it retreated. It upset Lola and me.
The woman came up to her dazed dog. I suggested that since all the other dogs were on leashes her dog should do the same.
She said her dog was fine. It was other dogs that were the problem.
And that, friends, is how Swan Lake can become an alley fight.
Jack Crowe is an Oak Park resident and a very occasional columnist for Viewpoints.