This is Sprocket.
Well, that’s Sprocket and me, anyway.
Sprocket likes to run and play, like any other dog. And, like any other dog owner, I will say that he is probably the best behaved dog I know. His recall is pretty much 100%. He waits when we get to a street, until I tell him it is okay to cross. If we see someone coming with another dog, or children, we pull off the sidewalk and he sits until I tell him it is okay to say hello, or he waits until they go by. If we see another dog in the park, I make him sit and wait until I have walked up and greeted the dog and asked the dog owner if it is okay for Sprocket to say hello. If not, then I return to Sprocket and release him from his sit. If it is okay, I call him to come play.
We made sure he learned all of these things because Sprocket is primarily an off-leash dog. And I should say that in every city we’ve lived in, the local law enforcement seems to have become used to seeing him off leash. They largely turn the other way.
White Plains has been a challenge. It is by far the most dog-unfriendly city I’ve ever seen. Everywhere there are signs like this:
I am not proud of the fact that law enforcement has to look the other way. I do not ordinarily flaunt the fact that Sprocket can be walked off-leash when most other dogs can’t be. But I am saying this now because I have been made genuinely curious by something that happened on Saturday morning.
It was beautiful out, and Sprocket and I walked down to the local schoolyard to play. There is a track there, one I’ve written about before, and there were kids riding their bikes on the track and people walking around it. Normally, people are having lunch and playing soccer or volleyball and lots of kids are rollerblading around the track or riding their bicycles. Today, though, it was mostly just walkers and one or two bicycles. Sprocket and I were in the middle of the field in the track oval, playing fetch.
I was on my knee, saying something to Sprocket, when I noticed a man coming over. He was not smiling, but he was walking doggedly towards us. Usually people want to say hi. But this man’s face was not friendly. So I stayed where I was.
He got to within a few feet of me and pointed. “There are two signs, one there and one there, that say ‘No dogs allowed,'” he said. He’s right. They look like this:
“I know,” I said. “We’re not bothering anyone.”
“The signs are right there,” he said.
“Uh huh,” I said. “When you see people riding their bikes, or rollerblading, or drinking booze in here or playing soccer or volleyball here, do you go up to them and tell them they’re breaking the law?”
“So you’re saying that their wrong makes you right.”
“No. I’m just asking if you treat them the same way you’re treating me.” Here I point. “That little girl has been here on her bike for awhile. Are you now going to tell her she can’t be here?” [Here I was erroneous. I thought the sign included bicycling too, but it doesn’t, for some weird reason. Bikes on a track are much more dangerous than skates.]
“I’m going to call the cops,” he says. “You can argue with them.”
“I’m not arguing with you,” I say. “I’m just curious.”
After that the situation disintegrated. Sprocket and I left the field with me yelling something about ruining everyone’s Saturday and then I believe I said very loudly that the man was a terrible citizen and that he should be ashamed of himself and that it’s always dog owners who pick up after the riff raff of White Plains.
And it’s true, too. The first sign I posted above, the brown one, is in the park across the street from us. When we first moved here Sprocket and I would go very early in the mornings and play ball or frisbee when there were fewer people. Now, no matter when we go, there are dogs in there. They run here and there while we owners keep a sharp eye out for glass 40s or food containers with leftover fried chicken in them, where people who are stoned or drunk will leave them after they’ve eaten off their binge drinking or whatever.
We pick up after ourselves every time. Sometimes I will pick up after errant dog owners…maybe they didn’t have a plastic bag with them.
Despite our poaching the park, I still feel like a good citizen. But after I’d told the guy out loud that he was being a bad citizen, I had to take a really hard look at myself: Am I being a good citizen?
What do you think?