I have a confession to make.
I used to be the kind of person that would judge parents on their ability to control their kids. The kind of insufferable idiot that would roll their eyes at children running around supermarkets and sigh theatrically when they started screaming on trains.
I was that person, and I’m sorry, parents. Because then I started walking dogs.
Like children, dogs do what they want, when they want, regardless of your pleas and promises – the journey to obedience for both kids and canines is long and fraught (although at least children are programmed to understand basic language, which makes bargaining a little easier).
I realised the error of my ways a few weeks ago when I was out walking a troublesome quartet: Wilson, an English bulldog that’s built like a tank and is fond of becoming completely immovable when he happens upon an appealing patch of grass; Buster, a feisty, squirming pug that gets riled up by other dogs and takes it out on his walking companions; Roger, a geriatric Westie that moves at a glacial pace and walks into trees; and Alfie, an excitable, flirtatious cavalier spaniel that has a tendency to simply skip off with other people. Individually, manageable. Altogether, a nightmare.
Halfway round the common we reached crisis point. Wilson was hell-bent on barrelling into a bramble bush, and as I was trying to reign him in and simultaneously encourage Roger along (while untangling Aflie’s lead from around my legs) an already-aggro Buster started barking at an approaching lady and her Jack Russell, which of course dived straight into the group.
“I imagine they’re pretty wound up because you won’t let them off the lead,” the helpful lady commented, helpfully. “It’s such a joy to see them running freely.”
And of course she just stood there while her well-meaning dog wreaked havoc on the already precarious status quo, and silently judged my inability to restore order.
“The thing is,” I said, as I removed Buster’s little teeth from Alfie’s ears and heaved Wilson’s mighty bulk out of a bush, “some of these dogs have been treated badly in the past, and can’t be trusted off-lead just yet.” And then with a knowing look directed at the Jack Rusell that just wouldn’t quit: “Some of them will just amble off, or UPSET OTHER PEOPLE’S DOGS.”
“Well you won’t know unless you try, will you?” she retorted, with a smugness pungent enough to rival Wilson’s eye-watering flatulence.
“OKAY THEN,” I announced. “LET’S SEE WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I LET THE BULLDOG OFF THE LEAD.” And lo, as I bent down to undo Wilson’s harness, she chimed: “Hmm, must dash. Next time, perhaps!” and scurried off. Yeah. Thought so.
Despite my relative self-righteousness, I nonetheless felt embarrassed and, looking at the four furry faces staring up at me (because of course they’d calmed down now), something of a failure. But then Buster licked my wellies and Alfie offered me his paw, and that obnoxious woman and her stupid opinion didn’t matter anymore.
Still, I was relieved to give them back at the end of the day – something you can’t do with your kids. And so, parents, I salute you.
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