Nina In New York: Tales From The Dog Run: An Enemy Among Us
A young professional’s take on the trials and tribulations of everyday life in New York City.
By Nina Pajak
I haven’t discussed the dog run in quite some time, and there’s a reason for that. It is stressing. Me. Out.
In all of my daily dealings, I don’t think there’s any one place that is home to as much rancor, conflict, and edginess as there is swarming around the dog run in the pre-work hours. Don’t believe it? I don’t blame you. Why should that be? Everyone’s presence there is entirely voluntary. We share a common interest in our pets. It’s early and we’re all just trying to give our dogs a chance for some exercise and interaction. Why would a person come if there’s to be any unpleasantness? Why, indeed.
This morning, I witnessed a perfectly normal-looking middle-aged man have a profanity-laced freak-out on another adult. He flung the f-bomb around liberally and loudly and threatened to hurt the other man’s dog if that man had the audacity to bring her back to the dog run. He screamed from across the relatively large park so that every single bystander became a part of this embarrassing scene, and then stormed out and left both inner and outer gates wide open so that everyone’s dogs could go eff themselves and get hit by cars. It should surprise no one that this is about the fifth altercation this man has gotten into since he started coming to the dog run a month or so ago. That I’ve heard about.
This individual has been a major source of stress for me in the past weeks. If any dog hassles his dog, he flies off the handle. I avoid him like my life depends upon it. I let Gus chew on sticks in a nearby field and wait for him to leave before I enter. I am racked with guilt for depriving my dog of his morning wrestling and running time, and with shame for letting some easily-provoked lunatic intimidate me. Every day, I have a crisis of conscience over this: should I just say screw him and do what I want? Is it worth it to put Gus and myself in a situation where we could wind up in a fight? My dog is a bit of a wild man, and he’s just nutty enough that I can’t guarantee that his behavior won’t somehow offend this guy. But I can stand up for myself! But, why should I have to? Why does owning a dog mean that I have to wake up at the crack of dawn in order to navigate uncomfortable and emotionally-charged human interactions with a total strangers? Why should this be so complicated? This isn’t normal. Why can’t my life just be normal? Why can’t everyone else just be normal?
Well, I guess that’s the $64,000 question.
Now everyone in my morning dog run coffee klatch is a-buzz with the indignation and concern about this man. Maybe he’ll decide the dog run is a terrible place filled with dangerous dogs and irresponsible owners, and he’ll stop coming. Maybe he’ll yell at the wrong person and will meet his mentally ill match—this is the Upper West Side, after all. Maybe we will run him out with pitchforks and dismay. Something has to give. Going to the dog run is an activity I consider largely to be “not real life.” It exists in a vacuum, before my day truly starts and with people whom (with some exceptions) I don’t see or correspond with otherwise. And drama in a vacuum is just about as silly a waste of time and energy as I can imagine.
Whoever determined that pet-ownership reduces stress and contributes to a longer life span obviously did not live in my neighborhood.
Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.
Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.
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